The acorn does not fall far from the tree
According to reliable research conducted many years ago, ancestors populating the earliest branches of my family tree were fur trappers in Quebec, Canada traceable back to the year 1626 with Jacques Brouillet. How cool is that! Historians have documented our progression from Brouillet to Baptiste and finally to Bernard which is the moniker I wear today. Along the way, one relative was the first pioneer of Beloeil back in the 1700’s, another branch of the family came to the American colonies in 1754 and served in the Revolutionary War, and another included the superintendent of the Elk Point Public Schools from 1887-1892.
The major attraction of family trees is discovering and learning about the roots from which we grew. Who were these people from the past, what kind of lives did they live, and just how far back can I trace my family tree?
With some serious detective work, a family tree search may go back a few generations, maybe even further. But aside from learning names and dates, without some kind of record or story, we will know little of the actual people and their personal lives behind the statistics. What a shame to lose track of our family history.
As we grow older, we become the keepers of our family histories – our memories record the lives of our parents, hopefully back to our grandparents, and provide the substance of their lives, their challenges and dreams and unique characteristics that often find their way on down the line to future generations. A diary kept, early photographs of somber faces (I don’t think smiling for the camera came along until recent days), a mention in a local paper, all are sources of information that fill in the blanks. And all are in jeopardy of being lost or forgotten.
What a wonderful opportunity to add some color to the characters that branch from our family trees, to save for posterity our experiences and memories, to document a family tree with deep roots filled with leaves rich in details of lives lived.
That said, I believe we have found an excellent topic for our senior activities to keep busy #4 – making your family tree.
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance ~ George Bernard Shaw
How to get started
(1) What do you know? Let’s assume you are 65 years old. You should have many memories, photos, and rich details on the lives of your parents. You should also have some memories and memorabilia concerning your grandparents. Now is the time to start documenting what you know whether in the form of a diary or book you create or folders you arrange. The key is to record those details that will be lost when you are no longer here to share them. Put it to writing.
(2) What do other family members know? Creating a family tree should be a combined effort and other members are typically happy to add their two cents given the chance. Let your family know that you are endeavoring to document and save their history but you can use their help. Become the collection point for stories, pictures, humorous events, and whatever they have to contribute regarding your shared family history. Everyone wins with this partnership.
(3) Research – there are many ways to research your family history from visiting libraries and town halls to searching the web. Ancestry.com allows you to build a family tree on line for free. They also provide additional information with “hints” based on the names and dates you add as you fill out your family tree. This additional information is available for a fee but can help you to fill in the blanks for those little known family members. Ancestry.com does offer a free 14 day trial to allow you to test-drive their service.
You can go to Google.com and enter a name with a birth date or range of dates to see what information is publicly available. Or try a name and the town or city where the person was born or grew up. Search for that same home town including specific years of interest. If you know the profession of your ancestor, try the town name plus profession plus a date. You get the idea – combination of names, dates, places, and anything specific to your relative may help you dig up the scoop on great-great-great whoever.
Archives.com is another service that helps you trace your family tree by entering your name, age and state plus you can search for a specific ancestor. There is a charge but again you can sign up for a free seven day trial.
I did discover many offers for “free” family trees but when I clicked on links they invariable charge something for their services, so buyer beware.
(4) Make your family tree – various software programs exist to assist in tracking, documenting and presenting your family tree in an appealing manner including pictures and video. One available from Amazon for under $40 is called the Family Tree Maker (I have not tried this but the description sounds pretty full features although some reviewers found it a bit complex).
Numerous images of family trees can be downloaded from the web, some free and some for a fee. Using these templates you can fill in the blanks as you build out details of your family history.
Ultimately what really brings a family tree to life and makes viewing it an experience to be savored by all is specific details on the lives of its residents. Great-great grand dad who was a black smith in old New Mexico, who as a boy raced his Appaloosa against a train and ended up tangled in a barbwire fence when his mount shied at the shrieking whistle, who met his wife-to-be when he offered one rainy day to carry her across the muddy town streets, and who chased away a marauding mountain lion with a shovel – THAT is what gets the juices flowing and makes us proud and aware of our heritage. And that wonderful information is exactly what is so easily lost over the years.
As keepers of our family history, we older folks have the opportunity if not responsibility to provide insights into our family and ancestors. Any scraps of information and gathered memories along with historical data we collect can make our ancestors more real to our children and their children. Not just names with dates from long ago but real people who lived and loved and ultimately made us into who we are today.
While the memories are still sharp in your mind, take the time to preserve them.
Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to email@example.com.