Question of the Week: Who or what got you interested in genealogy?

+20 votes

Did someone or something first spark your interest in family history and genealogy? Who or what was it? Tell us with an answer below or share the question image with your answer on social media. Thanks!

ago in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
I kept seeing the ancestry ad and said to myself time to see about my family plus I heard of a story about my great uncle Jim Press Meriwether being beat by the sheriff and his goons and I found the articles and showed my dad and his siblings and family members. I got a lot of articles but want to find more. Now I am trying to see if I got slaves in my family. I guess you look through the freedmen bureau for that anybody knows?? I need the steps on .

My interest in genealogy began in January 1977 when I watched Roots, an American television miniseries on ABC-TV based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family.  My parents pronounced "Rioux" as "Rio" like the Rio Grande River or Rio de Janeiro not like the French pronunciation "Ree-ou" (roll the "R").  As a child born and raised in El Campo, Texas, USA, our family would go to a family reunion on my mother's German side and there would be hundreds of people but on my father's side, I only knew my father's sister, his half-sister, his father and step-mother, and his grandfather and grandmother.  When I would travel to New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc., I would look in the telephone books in the hotel room and found no one with my last name.  I realized that there were very few Rioux's in the USA as these were huge cities compared to El Campo, Texas, USA.  I was born on 26-Jun-1947, my father died on 10-Sep-1959, my grandfather died on 28-Feb-1974, and my mother died on 24-Jul-1975.  I have been an amateur genealogist since first researching my Rioux ancestry in 1985 when my grandmother, wife, and I traveled to Fall River, Massachusetts, USA.  We had been told that my grandfather was born there, that my great-grandparents were married there, and the names of my great-grandfather's parent's names.  We found the American-French Genealogy Society originally in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA, on the second floor of the LeFoyer Club, a French Canadian social organization, but now in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, USA.  The President Lucille Rock looked through their collection and was able to trace my ancestors back to Jean Riou in about an hour.  Several years later, Father Dennis Boudreau did charts of all my Canadian-French ancestors.  I first traveled to the birthplace of Jean Rioux in Ploujean near Morlaix, France, in 1990 seeing his home, the church where he was baptized, holding the church records of his baptism, and making copies of church records.  I still have not found the birth of my grandfather Adolphus Rioux supposedly on 10-Dec-1885 in Fall River, Bristol, Massachusetts, USA, nor the marriage of my great-grandparents Joseph Ernest Rioux and Matilda "Maggie" Beaumont (possibly Couillard) supposedly on 10-Jul-1882 in Fall River, Bristol, Massachusetts, USA.  From, Rioux in Southern France is a topographic name for someone who lived by a stream, from Old Provençal rieu (Latin rivus).

In 1983 (age 48) I read an article in a Sydney Australia afternoon newspaper about Family History and that got me going. It was just before Easter so I spent the whole Easter Weekend drawing up a Tree of what I knew and have been adding and expanding the tree ever since.
After I graduated from college, 1st in my family, my grandmother asked to see me. Our visit was for one reason, she had purchased Stuart Martin's book "New Pennacook Folks: A Historical record of the town of Rumford [Maine] and the people who lived here"  and found a mistake in her family tree.  She asked me to fix it. That began an amazing 40 year journey. I spoke to the author, who was a very nice man, but by the time I had collected all my primary documents, the book had gone into a second printing. I am grateful to be able to fix my grandmother's family tree here at wikitree.
My great-Aunt Pearl told me I didn't want to look into our family because I would find bad people.  She was right, I did.  Between 1902 and 1915 I found 3 men who were arrested for murder or attempted murder for different crimes.  Two of the victims were the wives of those men.  Two were convicted and all three died while incarcerated.  It certainly surprised me but got me hooked.  I am always more excited about the criminals than the law-abiding..... criminals produce more dramatic records!!!
My husband's brother John E. got me into genealogy. I was hooked the very next day he talked me into it..
I wanted to know my family who my granny and papa's parents were.  I knew my mom's maternal grandfather and my Daddy's maternal grandmother.  Why did i not know my other great grandparents.  The search was on.  I also wanted to know where the shield with family Crest came from.  It wad my maternal grandfather's.
About 1995, I came across some of my deceased father's papers. His middle name was Eugene, and thought 'where or from whom did he get his second name'? I knew his ancestors came from Paisley, Scotland but wasn't even sure where it was located.  So started my genealogical journey...  Sadly, I have not been able to fulfil my quest.

I am so grateful to WikiTree for its creation and especially the creation of the Relationship Finder, and the 'Featured Connections' which has really helped my discover my family's history and connection TO history.  Thanks WikiTree.

I was 10 years old sitting at my Grandmother Florence Russell Norris' kitchen table, trying to record a family tree on a piece of typing paper. The father had eleven children with the first wife and eleven children with the second. I couldn’t fit them all on the paper! But, it was Grandma’s stories that intrigued me. I wanted to see for myself how they were kin to me. I'm thankful for the genealogy databases we have now.

Knowing family origins was important to my Grandmother. She didn’t have a father growing up. That was something that truly bothered her - not having a complete family. (He came back into their lives twenty years later, a broken and dying man.)

Her mother, Mary Howard Spiers, was the first person of royal descent to marry into Spiers Family. (Descended from Lord Edward George Fitzalan Howard, first Lord Howard of Glossop, second son of 13th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Charles Howard.) Our Spiers were descended from Henry Spiers of Scotland whose lineage was proved by a Land Patent in 1744 in Prince George County, VA. (from Descendants of Henry Spiers, Pioneer Scotsman, complied by Mary Spiers Kennette). 

Her father, Charles William Robins, was born in 1859? and orphaned at 4 years of age – his father William? Robins a seaman and his mother, a 16 year old Hughenot, Marie Louise DeMahuren. The family story is that Marie was pregnant so the young couple asked her widowed mother for help – they were turned away and disowned. William Robins died in 1863, supposedly while on a ship. Marie was pregnant and died giving birth to the child. Charles was made a ward of the Court as his father had Seaman’s Insurance. He was “adopted” by a young couple, Alonzo and Lucinda Russell of Lowell, Massachusetts (FamilySearch - Massachusetts State Census 1865 - has Alonzo, Lucinda, and Charles Robins (6 yrs) and Ann C. Russell (22 yrs).

have information on his adult life (his first wife and twin children, as a travelling newspaper reporter out West and in Europe during the WWI, his second marriage to and divorce from my Gr grandmother Mary Spiers and the descendants from that marriage.)

We visited Lowell and found where his adopted family (Russell) lived and where they were buried. We didn’t have enough time to research him in the Massachusetts library. Family Search and Ancestry haven’t been helpful before the 1865 census. Each census had a different birthplace and birthdate.

We found where Gr grandfather Charles is buried in Portsmouth, VA (died in1936 where he had been living with his adult children from the first marriage).

Also, most of his children were known for their red hair – Ireland or Scottish?

The search for information on my Gr grandfather Charles William Robins Russell is ongoing. My Grandmother Florence died in 2001, not knowing her paternal lineage.

Hopefully I find more about his lineage before I pass!

My grandpa Smith would drop little bits of information about our family when I was a kid. He was a character and we never knew whether to believe him or not. That was about 60 years ago!

I became very ill 6 or 7 years ago and needed something to keep my attention from the pain. I decided to join and start a tree. Imagine how pleased I was when I found that my grandpa’s stories were truthful! I’m descended from very early settlers who are notable in New England, and on Long Island, New York.

61 Answers

+17 votes
A family story about my 3rd great grandfather who served in the English 54th Regiment of Foot during the time of the American Revolution, got me interested in genealogy.

He served from the summer of 1777 until the war ended. After that, his unit relocated to Canada for several years. As the story goes, an officer insulted my ancestor's lady, after which my 3rd great grandfather struck the officer who fell and struck his head on a rock, resulting in his death.

At that point my ancestor abruptly deserted and fled to Upstate New York.

I wanted to find out more about my ancestor which led to discovering a fair amount of information over time.
ago by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.2m points)
+16 votes
What got me interested in genealogy was a family reunion that my family attended when I was young. My mother got interested in researching our ancestors, and I went with her to our local library as we started the hunt. There was no internet or computers then. All we had at the library was an extensive collection of genealogy items to look through. Other relatives helped to gather information and passed the information on to my mother. And so the hunt began to find our ancestors.
ago by Tommy Buch G2G6 Pilot (111k points)
+16 votes

My name is one of those that you always need to spell out to people. I noticed we are really few as well, where the other spelling variations seem to be with many more. Then one day a family member ordered a rather expensive family tree from a commercial company... yeah you know: 90% fake news in there, and I decided I could do better, starting with real documents wink.

I am still working on it though, and WikiTree forced me to re-evaluate all the birth certificates which is a nice to do thing after 20 years of gathering all bits and pieces.

ago by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (157k points)
My interests started in a similar way! I'm finding it incredibly satisfying to be able to connect almost anyone with my last name.
My Dad had spent a couple of years interviewing the older family member, visiting Graveyards and court houses and pouring over microfilm of the US Census. I had spent about the same time doing the microfilm thing. I had amassed about 300 Family Sheets I had filled out about every name in the southern counties of Indiana, that we though might be related. Over the years, I've proven about 50 of these sheets are related. I review the remaining sheets from time to time in hopes of finding another relative. After all that, my Dad put an ad in a genealogy magazine about his paternal grandparents. The first two responses were horrible. They took my Dad's data but returned nothing. The third actually gave Dad some information. Dad sent back data about his father and two of his uncles who served together in the S/A War. He told the guy that he had more but would not send it until the guy sent more. Six weeks later, a big envelop arrived with 257 loose leaf, single spaced pages. The guy ask forgiveness because he was able to add Dad's date to this work but the printer needed to close out the book or increase his cost to print it. We got a loose leaf version, I think the galleys. I've used this book as a tertiary source since 1979. I can't use it for better than that because no one told this guy he needed to quote sources. We have no idea where any of it came from. However, I've used hundreds of leads from this book and only found one item I couldn't source elsewhere. I no longer have family interested in genealogy. If I did, I would do the research for this book and publish it on the internet with the sources. By myself, this would be a task I could not live long enough to finish.
Great story John!
+16 votes
Stories my mother related about her father's childhood during the Civil War. His father left to serve in the Confederate Army so he and his mother and baby sister went to paternal grandfather's plantation for the duration of the war. He remembered quite a bit and my mother remembered what he told her. As I grew older I wanted to know who his family was so the research began.

On my father's side, his great grandfather immigrated from England to Louisiana in the 1840's. Those stories were interesting but all the court house records were burned during the Civil War. We have found out quite a bit but still stuck on that line and research continues.
ago by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (511k points)
+14 votes
My own marriage in 1987 sparked my interest in genealogy.
At dinner, all the older relatives talked about their weddings and weddings of ancestors who were no longer living.
Since I knew some but by far not all of these names, I later asked them to tell me about it all again in detail and took notes.
I then also visited some of them and copied or photographed the documents and family Bibles they showed me.
But at some point there was an end and I got no further and that made me even more curious and I went to the archives to understand the story even further backwards. And I still do that today, every new name awakens in me the interest to also look for the name of his parents and siblings; only that today I rarely go to archives but do most of it online.
ago by Dieter Lewerenz G2G6 Pilot (220k points)
+16 votes

The answer for me is 4 images, all of them inspired me to find out more and fill in a myriad of missing information. 

The first one is a family tree I was given because I am one of the many descendants of Charles Richards 1839-1905, all his known and traceable descendants received a copy of the tree. I had to shrink this image because the original is huge. The caption should say 1975 not 1970. 


The second image is also of a family tree, this is my husband's family, it was included in a textbook about early settlers in Ontario, based in information in the family bible. The book is out of copyright and we own several copies. 


The third image is of the sword my husband's 4th grt grandfather used at the Battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815, that sword hangs on my living room wall.


The 4th image is of my 3rd great grandfather, and his descendants, the young boy is my grandfather


ago by M Ross G2G6 Mach 7 (78.4k points)
+13 votes
Back about 1960, my great-aunt Florence Bogart told me that an ancestor was a farmer in New Amsterdam, near what is now Hell's Gate.  Another ancestor was said to have been a minister in the Dutch church and performed a marriage ceremony for Aaron Burr.  I looked thru a biography of Burr and found that a Rev. David S. Bogart performed the marriage ceremony of Aaron Burr and Madame Jumel. Using links to David Bogart I was able to follow my branch of the Bogart family tree back to the original migration from Holland.  I spent a long time at the New York Public Library's genealogy room.
ago by James Bogart G2G2 (3.0k points)
+13 votes
A family tree project my children had in elementary school.  I was amazed how little we knew.  The seed was planted.
ago by Fred Adamson G2G6 Pilot (124k points)
+13 votes
Preparing for an 80th birthday celebration in which I was the host.  I discovered a bunch of famous people who were distant relations and used that as my speech.
ago by Gurney Thompson G2G6 Pilot (172k points)
+13 votes
My father-in-law, LeRoi Nelson, was working on genealogy for my mother-in-law, and I have the work he did. He died in 1973, when I was only 28. Seeing what he was working on, I think he was trying to get my mother-in-law into DAR. I sure wish I could ask him. Then ten years ago a friend at work showed me what she could bring up on the internet, and I was hooked.
ago by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (297k points)
+13 votes

Our family never talked about ancestors. We did, however, visit the cemetery to take flowers from the garden for parents/grandparents on each "Decoration Day". Sometimes we would also go across the road to the "old Sands cemetery". This was spooky as a 7 year old, overgrown with sunken graves. In 1973 the local historical society undertook the task of cleaning up that cemetery because a Revolutionary War soldier was buried there. Later visits captured my curiosity as how that soldier, Samuel Sands, might be related. The picture is my gggg grandfather's gravestone from a visit in 2011.

Samuel Sands Gravestone

ago by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (366k points)
+15 votes
A long time ago at a kitchen table not so far away.....

What got me interested in genealogy was basically all the stories I heard growing up. I grew up in an Italian-American household and that always meant going over to grandma's house and she'd have her sisters all there. They'd be talking about their parents or some other relative and tell my brother and I stories. Since I always asked a ton of questions, I asked for more info. Then I asked my great-aunt on my dad's paternal side since my grandfather was long gone by that point.

From there my quest for knowledge grew and I ended up asking relatives on my mom's side. I liked hearing the stories about how my great-grandparents came over from Italy or Quebec or how I had lines back to the American Revolution. I loved hearing all of these stories.

I guess as a writer it made sense. I always wanted to learn more and that's how I got here. =D
ago by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (384k points)
+13 votes
I'm a data analyst and my background is in psychology. For me, genealogy and the social sciences scratch the same itch. How do we take the complex, many factored human experience and distill it down into some numbers and concrete facts that we all agree mean the same thing? And when we encounter someone else's numbers or a collection of facts, how do we combine them with other's peoples numbers and facts in a way that lets us learn more about our complex and many factored human experience?

I have an ancestor named Jefferson Davis Chappell who was born in 1861 and his father died in 1863. That's just a tiny scratch of facts about his life, but it's an incredible amount of information about how this man intersected with history.
ago by Kathryn Black G2G4 (4.1k points)
+13 votes
Several years before she died my mother started putting together a "Grandparents' Memory Book" for our children. At the time I put it to one side intending to finish the job at a later date, but of course never got around to it. Early in 2020 my father had to go into a home I started clearing his house in preparation for putting it on the market.

I knew both my parents tended not to throw away anything that might be of interest but was surprised to find boxes of old photographs and documents going back several generation, and not just from my parents, but grandparents, aunts and uncles as well. As this was about the time that the Covid pandemic started to reduce what we could  do I decided to start sorting out it all and produce a coherent record. Once I started I kept going back further and wanting to find out more and record it for others.
ago by Martin Honor G2G5 (5.9k points)
+9 votes

My paternal grandmother, Bennie Greye, had been researching her own and her husband's family tree for years, and as I got older she shared the books and documents she had. I slowly became more interested as I took home the books - now after her passing I am the family genealogist! I really enjoy the puzzle of genealogy and knowing where my ancestors came from.

ago by Sarah Callis G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
+8 votes
a friend,Mormon , asked me to go with her to a genealogy talk. After the meeting we were given a booklet with family group sheets to begin our research.  I knew my Dad and Grandparents were all born in the same town in Tennessee, but little else. Same with my Mom's side of family, knew they were born in Texas but not much more.  My Mom said one of my cousins was working on her side of family, so I began working on my Dad's side of family.  Been working on all of family since then, and that was 1972.  Like others have said, just researching, they become more than just names that you heard, but almost alive, in my mind.   It is the best time ever!
ago by Sandra Vines G2G6 Mach 4 (48.2k points)
+8 votes
I've always had a love of history.  My paternal grandmother had anecdotes of her family's history and stories for each and every thing in her house.  Since my grandfather was career US Navy, they lived many places over the years and traveled extensively after his retirement.
ago by Dorothy O'Hare G2G6 Mach 4 (42.9k points)
+7 votes
When I was in the fifth grade, our school assignment was to make a family tree. My whole family got involved in my project. My grandmother had her grandfather's Bible from the Civil War; my grandfather's sister had a family Bible written in French; my father's brother had two Bibles: his mother's and his grandmother's. It was amazing that so many people had come together to produce me!

To make a chart of all this information, I had to leave out all the brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and I still needed a large piece of shelf paper to fit everyone on. I remember drawing around a domino to make the boxes for the names. My tree did not fit onto the bulletin board with everyone else's, but earned a special place along the back wall.

The next year, the fifth graders had the same assignment. Mary Chu just asked her Chinese grandmother; her tree was much bigger than mine ever was, but I don't think she had as much fun.
ago by Joyce Vander Bogart G2G6 Mach 3 (37.8k points)
+5 votes
My mother got interested in genealogy when I was a kid. I think it was when she saw the movie Roots on television. She got one of the "family tree", fill-in-the-blank type of books and went to work. She worked on a hand-drawn family tree graph, and I would help her to fill it in.

One weekend we took a trip to Barnsdall, Oklahoma, to go find the grave of one of her ancestors in the small town cemetery. The only information she had was that it was by a tree. I went with her, and I ended up finding the gravestone first. We were both excited, and we did a pencil rubbing of the gravestone, as it was difficult to read, and also so we had a record of it. Back home we were able to knock down a "brick wall" and add more family information to the tree.

My paternal grandfather got a little involved too. He saw what my mother was doing, and he ended doing some research on his side of the family. I remember he went back to Kentucky for a family reunion and came home with more information that he gave to my mother to collect.

When I grew up and left home, she ended up giving me the "Family Tree" book, with all of her information. I was the only of the siblings that seemed interested. I ended up being estranged from my family for many years for a number of reasons. Although I reconciled with my dad towards the end of his life, and I've gotten together with a niece and a couple of nephews. I'm still not close to the rest. But oddly, I'm the repository of the family information.

I went through a divorce in 2015, and in 2016 I found WikiTree. Since then I've entered all the information I had and research so much more and broken down so many brick walls. I remarried in 2019, and have had more family to research. Everything keeps going.
ago by Eric Weddington G2G6 Pilot (223k points)
+4 votes
I wanted to know more about my paternal grandfather, [[Teeter-1026|Harold Chester Teeter (1898-1952)]], who died at age 53, six years before I was born. His life story wasn't shared by his family and I was curious to know why. I now know some of his story and I'm proud that he's my grandfather. My search has given me a better understanding of how tragedy fractures families. I feel a closer connection with my ancestors, having experienced my own share of tragedies.
ago by Barbara Bennett G2G1 (1.3k points)

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