Technology for Your Family Tree
Discover who you are — be a digital detective!
Hello to the dog days of summer. Maybe you can squeeze in a long weekend at a reasonably priced location before Labor Day. But where to go? Why the relatives' of course! Grandparents, mom and dad, aunts and uncles and cousins, the siblings?
If your family is large and relatives live a distance from each other, the chance to attend your family reunion may still be ahead. Go! Even though it may be inconvenient to arrange, go. These opportunities are few. Relatives of all ages gather to catch up, tell the family stories, recount jokes and embarrassing moments, eat ridiculous amounts of food and cement the bonds that hold families together.
Have you noticed how those family stories get embellished with the re-telling? But what about all the family stories that are not told? What’s the real story behind your aunt’s unusual first name or why two of your uncles wouldn’t speak to each other for years? Where did your family come from? To coin the title of a current television show, did you ever wonder “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Technology makes the pursuit to answer those questions easier. The digitization of historical data and the resulting automated searches bring a wealth of information at the tap of a keyboard or the swipe of a SmartPhone. Here are a few reliable places to begin.
- United States Census Bureau records
- State archives (Virginia’s are at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.)
- National Archives and Records Administration
- Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Research System
Your public library card comes in handy with genealogy research. It provides access via the Internet to services such as Ancestry.com, Gale Cengage HeritageQuest and back issues of newspapers. Immigration, military, birth, marriage and death records are also available. Don’t have a library card? They are free you know. Ancestry.com has a paid subscription service you may wish to buy. They also provide a special “Hire an Expert” option.
Why restrict yourself to Internet sites? There are a variety of apps for the mobile genealogist. A few notable ones include:
- Ancestry in both IOS and Android versions
- Families app for Legacy in both IOS and Android versions
- MyHeritage in both IOS and Android versions
- Mobile Family Tree Pro in IOS only
While you are tracking down elusive clues and examining old photographs, think about what and how you’ll add your own story for future generations. Capture those family reunions in photographs and videos. Record relatives telling their stories in their own words in audio files. Capture those secret-ingredient family recipes by videotaping intergenerational cooking. My aunt who was known for her biscuits couldn’t tell you how much of any ingredient to include. “Just a handful of this and a splash of that and mix it with your hands until it feels right.” She’s gone, but her recipe continues, made almost as special as she did.
Have you tracked back through your family? Which resources and technologies helped you?