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

+24 votes

Who or what got you interested in genealogy?

For me, there were three factors.

One, my mom was a family history consultant at the local family history library and during the summers when I was a teenager she'd take me with her.  I had way too much love for sitting at a table and filling in pedigree and family group sheets.

Two, my dad's dad was very into family history and he had so many notes and papers and articles to look at.  I loved going through them to try and piece more of the puzzle together.

And three, I'm adopted. So while I loved (and still love) researching my adoptive family lines, I always wondered about my blank biological family tree.

How about you?

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asked in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
reshown by Chris Whitten
When I was a child, my Grandmother was a genealogist and would take me to the Genealogical Society meetings in Las Vegas. She had a small Windows 3.11 computer or something to that effect. She had a whole room in her house with cabinets and files. Binders and binders of family history. She would travel the country and England taking pictures of headstones and such. In '97 we had a trip planned to Germany to visit Stuttgart where some of my ancestors are from, but she died a few months before. She is the reason. She got me interested in history and heritage and family. The stories she would tell...I was too young and didn't know what to do on my own so I didn't get her records, my Aunt did. Now, I'm on a mission to find them all and go beyond since she was limited by the technology of her time.
My father was a historian and was proud of his heritage.  In 1993 with my inheritance of his childhood home and my birthplace my curiousity about our ancestors I made a trip to the county courthouse (then research was legwork) and looked up the deed history of the property. They took me back to William Lowther and so the "hunt" began.  My great-grandmother was a Berry descendant and family friends were doing research on her ancestors.  They shared with me their "legwork" and about a website named Google and WV Culture.  The result was a book published in my father's memory in 2003 and revised in 2005 with lots of cousins.  There were three maternal and four paternal lines in it.  It gives me great pride to know just how much my ancestors contributed to the building of our nation and the Baptist/Methodist Churches "from sea to shining sea."
My interest started when I was a very young boy. For some unknown reason I asked my grandfather who his parents were. Then ensued a lot of talk about them and their parents. I wrote down on the back of an old envelope the names my grandfather gave me and I kept this safe for 15 years until I was able to further the research on the information my grandfather gave me. This took me to the Latter Day Saints library several times a week. My annual leave was spent travelling the country visiting  newly discovered relatives and numerous visits to libraries, museums and cemeteries. My database now consists of nearly 17,000 individuals and research is still a daily interest about 40 years after I asked my grandfather who his parents were.
For me it was a letter that all my Draffan Uncles received from George Draffen of Newington, in March 1960 asking what they knew about our family.   In that letter he pointed out that the earliest reference he had found was of a chartulary witness named James De Raffe at the Abbey of Kelso who between  1160 and 1189 signed his name as 'Draffan', 'Draffen', 'Draffin', and Draphan.    In July 1981 when I was going full throttle in research I exchanged letters with George again who by that time had many more degrees and honours after his name.    My great grandfather James Currie Draffan was born in the small Lanarkshire town of Lesmahagow, which is close to Draffan Castle and the village of Draffan.  In more recent years I have found that one grandmother of William 'Braveheart' Wallace was Alicia Draffan also from Lesmahagow.
Hello. Lives in Maine.. Not clear exactly, what cause me to do family research. My Older cousin sent me info on the Sturtevant's Tree Lines to Mayflower connections. Then I was hooked like crazy. Then started to find crazy info about the Sturtevant members. Then noticed Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris got married in front family statue, like wow. So dig some more, found info connections to Queen's & King's of England.. Mary's few great Uncle & other members served under Queen Elizabeth.

Then did my mom's side, had many road blocks. 1890 census wasn't available. Waited for 1940 census. Located missing puzzle that blew my mind. My parents are Cousins one certain tree line, wow & yikes.. Also heard I was related close to 80 % of the members in this small town. Now its very--very true. Just learned, I'm tree connected at least 1 or 2 times to my elementary class members.. Wow.. Most of them know now..  Pam..of Maine

Can relate--my grandparents were cousins and in WV we have a song--I'm my own grandpa.  My family ancestor took care of Queen Mary of Scots when running away from Queen Elizabeth.  Another danced at the wedding of Henry VII who married Catherine of Aragon  The VII died and Henry VIII then married her who was Elizabeth's father by Anne Boelyn. Seems our families may have crossed paths.

My family was Irish Catholic...but as I got older, I became more and more curious about my Great grandmother, Josefina...she was "Spanish"...I knew little about her. My grandparents were all gone by the time I went into the Navy, as was my mother. I am an only child and so was my father, so I lost track of what little  family I did have.

In 2007, I was contacted by two distant cousins, independently, both doing family genealogy. One is from my mother's family, the other from my father's side. Suddenly I had my family back!
But the mystery of my Spanish Great grandmother remained, and I wanted my own daughter and grandchildren to know who she was as well. So I did the DNA test through proved to be very accurate, showing me as 83% Irish. But it also threw me a said I was connected to Northwestern Mexico around 1775.....couldn't explain that.

I did find my Great grandmother's surname in an old autograph book of hers. The genealogy cousin recommended I try for her death certificate, and that got me her parents a result I have proof that my ancestors were Spanish by descent, but came to California in 1775 as settlers...

So I have been able to give my family some real history of who we are and how we got here....
Thanks for comment. Also have Quebec Canada connections, on my dad "Major//Majeur" lines. Was able locate on my few great grandmother's side that goes into Paris France with weird spelling names. Normandeau;
My childhood summers usually included a few days at my Mother's family home in Manistee, Mi. I had a chance to Great Aunts and Uncles along with a dozen or so of my third cousins. I was often told that we were probably related to about half the town, Every time my Grandparents introduced me to somebody it seemed to be followed by 'third cousin of Aunt Suzie'.  My Grandparents and I also went for walks through the local cemeteries showing me who was buried where. It seemed almost fitting that these cemeteries are right across the street from the family home.

   My second reason for getting into this came from a social work class in college. Everyone was assigned to do their own genogram that covered at least three generations.  From that point on, I have not been able to stop!
When I was 9 years old I asked my mom about her father.  My mother said she knew very little about her father, because he passed away when she was only 5 years old and she had always wanted to learn more about him.  The only information she had about him was his name and that he was a full blooded Swede, and he had passed away when he had went back home to Ohio to be with his mom after she had a heart attack.  She recovered from the heart attack, but he had one and died.  He had come from a wealthy family and his father and him owned a brick company.  The only thing I have been able to do is find my grandparents marriage license.

65 Answers

+14 votes
Best answer
When my grandmother died, my mother gave me all the old photos my grandmother had. I was going to reframe the one of my gg grandmother and on the back was an obituary with a last name I didn't recognize. When my grandmother used to talk about the ancestors to me, she had never uttered the name Swanner.

That's when my curiosity went into over drive and I began searching for JM Swanner (James Madison Swanner). Turns out he is my gggg grandfather. I spent the next 23 years loving the hunt for ancestors. Those first 15+ years were spent hunched over a microfilm reader at the Family History Center.
answered by Nancy Thomas G2G6 (7.9k points)
selected by Jamie Thompson
Thanks for the Best Answer selection, Jamie! I was very surprised - my first best answer designation!
Go girl!!  My grandmother told me the name of her mother.  I was about 6 years old at her house for the summer and was on her front porch dancing with a mop and singing "Dancing With Matilda', a hit from Australia during WWII.  She scolded me and told me to stop--that was her mother's name.

+16 votes
I was always curious about Samuel Sands with the SAR marker in the old cemetery across the road from my Sands grandparents in the new cemetery.

I was also curious about the family story that my grandmother was orphaned at a young age and raised by a foster family and that her parents fled Germany to get married because he was poor and she was royalty.

The bit about royalty is unproven, but I did find that she was not orphaned, but her mother died when she was young and her father signed an indenture of servitude for her foster father to raise her.

I found Samuel in a conflated WikiTree profile.
answered by Kay Sands G2G6 Pilot (168k points)
+15 votes

Two answers, on different time scales.  First, both of my grandmothers were interested in genealogy, so I learned about my family from them when I was growing up, including stories about George Washington on one side and "Indian princess" on the other, both of which I was pretty skeptical about.  More recently, my mom wanted to use DNA testing to try to find the identity of her father.  She asked for advice when she visited me back in May.  I let her log in to her FTDNA account on my computer to show me what she had, and saved the login info to use later (with her permission, of course!).  I'm a bit of a data nut, so once I had access to her results I was off and running.  Took a little over two months of solid work to solve that mystery, but of course in doing so I found all sorts of new mysteries to solve.  I found WikiTree at about that time, and have been using it as my main site to organize all my work.  So really it's mostly my mom's fault.  laugh

answered by Lisa Hazard G2G6 Mach 1 (12.3k points)
+14 votes
Growing up I heard about my ancestors quite a bit. I explained this a little in the interview I had here a while back. My grandmother on my dad's side would talk about her parents coming to America and her uncles who ended up residing in Everett. Her father settled in Haverhill. My great-aunt would talk to me about her hometown, too. On my mother's side, they would talk about their ancestors a lot. I'd hear about how they settled Quebec or fought in the American Revolution.

I wanted to learn more about them and if the stories were true. That's when I got interested in genealogy. No one ever really talked about royalty or anything like that. Though, my great-aunt is convinced we're related to a count. I need to look into that one. I was always a little curious about my heritage. I often asked a lot of questions. And that's when I got started on It just grew from there.
answered by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (149k points)
Where is "Everett" Chris?
Everett is a town in Massachusetts. It's just outside of Boston. It's 34 miles away from Haverhill.
+13 votes

Part 1 -- It was my Mom, and mostly her telling me about my gg/grandmother and g/grandmother, both of whom married men with the same, not-very-common surname.  I just had to find out the story!  (and I did).

She had also received some partial info on my Dad's side of the family, including that my gg/grandfather had been a prisoner at Andersonville.  Turns out he wasn't, but he did serve in the Civil War.

So it was really trying to track down those stories that got me interested.

Part 2 -- what got me really started doing (as opposed to being curious) was being stuck in a computer store with my then-fiance, and bored silly while he browsed every little thing.  I came upon an early version of Family Tree Maker.  Resisted at first, but . . .   So then I had a program for keeping track of it all, and I was off to the races.

And of course, whenever he complained about the time I spend on genealogy, I reminded him that it was all his fault.   smiley

answered by Nan Lambert G2G6 Pilot (197k points)
+12 votes
It was my brother.  In 1992, he asked me to look into our mother's line while he looked at our father's.  At first I was skeptical, but, since I had just moved to Texas from Massachusetts (a different universe), didn't know anyone, and couldn't understand most of the talk down there, I went to the local genealogical library.  Since then, I've been a bit of a fanatic while he eventually lost interest.
answered by Robin Anderson G2G6 Mach 2 (26.2k points)

Robin, have you learned to understand and speak Texan yet? laugh

After 23 years, yes!   Then I moved north again, missed the snow.  Austin, though, was a decent place to live until 500,000 others also moved there.
+18 votes

When my Dad's aunt, Euada Kline Rohme, moved in with us in 1960 after her husband died, my parents moved all her furniture, china, pictures, and most of her belongings into the attic. She and I would go up in the attic often so she could look at her things and reminisce. While looking at family memorabilia with her, she would tell me stories about the family members who owned them - her mother's dining room table and hutch, her grandmother's wine glasses and silverware, her husband's, father's, and grandfather's rocking chairs. These family members I never met became real to me because of her personal memories and the tangible evidence of their existence. Before she died, she gave me her mother's dining room table and hutch, her grandmother's wine glasses and silverware, her grandfather's rocking chair, her grandfather's original naturalization certificate, her father's family Bible, her 1915 class graduation picture from nursing school, and other family photos. I learned my passion for genealogy from these talks with her. To this day, when I break down a brick wall in my research, I think of her and wish I could share my discovery with her.

answered by Star Kline G2G6 Pilot (494k points)
+17 votes
My mother's family had a rich tradition of oral history and some written history, My mother took the role of genealogist from her father. I found the family history interesting, but didn't get involved. When my mother died of cancer at age 55 in 1984, I inherited extensive paperwork on her family, and whatever research she had done on my father's family. Soon after I discovered Compuserve (in pre-internet days) and began researching online. Eventually I was able to discover flaws in both our oral and written history and break some proverbial brick walls. I was hooked.

Since that time I have noticed that many other people become interested in their family history soon after the death of a parent. I think we do this because we have lost a primary connection to our past, a need we did not recognize until it was gone.

I sometimes dismay that my children aren't so interested in their own genealogy. Experience tells me that will likely change after their own connection with the past is gone.

answered by Bill Vincent G2G6 Mach 3 (35.7k points)
edited by Bill Vincent
Bill- My kids think I am a nut also, though I have found so much history! None are really interested, but most have done their dna, which seems to satisfy them. I do not know why they do not find family history fascinating, especially since i have 'fleshed' out many ancestors. Hopefully both of our families will become interested one day!
+12 votes
My mother was interested in genealogy when I was a kid. She got one of those "Our Family" genealogy books, and started entering in the information. She kept doing research as much as she could. I would help her out with making a giant ancestor / family tree chart.

I went with her to a cemetery in Barnsdall, OK, to look for relatives. She couldn't find a particular ancestor. The only clue was that the gravestone was near a tree. I ended up finding it, though the gravestone was hard to read. She showed me how to do a rubbing of a gravestone, and that's how we confirmed that we had found him.

Later, my paternal grandfather did some research on his side of the family, and went back to Kentucky for a family reunion. I don't remember much about what happened at the reunion, but my mother entered the information in that genealogy book.

Fast forward many years, and I don't have much in the way of relationships with family, by choice, and I don't have much in the way of things from my family either. But I ended up with that family genealogy book, which still reeks of cigarette smoke from my mother.

I always wanted to keep track of the information on a computer, but never found software I liked, until coming across WikiTree. I put all the information on here, got into sourcing everything, since my mother didn't keep track of her sources. I found out that pretty much all her information was correct.

Now I've had the pleasure to break down several brick walls and trace the family back further and wider than ever before and make new connections. I've also traced my kids family tree, through their mother's side, basically from memory (I'm divorced). And helped others with their family trees too.
answered by Eric Weddington G2G6 Pilot (151k points)
+11 votes
It all started with a small drawing of the O'Reilly Coat of Arms and the name James McGinnes O'Reilly 1836 written on it. It was given to me by my Grandfather. I have never found this person, but it lead me to discover my paternal Grandfather's story. He was homeless on the streets of Santa barbara and my Dad never spoke of him. That was until I investigated his family... today, over 10 years later, my Father has embraced his roots and has even written a book for our family on his paternal lineage!
answered by Coreen Arioto G2G3 (3.4k points)
This is a cool story! What a nice outcome.
+12 votes
The soil was cultivated when I found out there was a Ralph Jester in Hollywood and Daddy nearly gave me a spanking for pestering him to call this other Ralph Jester.

The Seeds were planted when in the 7th grade, my teacher who was from Texas (we were in California) told me about Gov. Beauford Jester and his father Lt. Gov George T. Jester, presenting two Texas firsts.

Germination began a couple years later when a friend of my mother's, had created this beautiful scoll of her collected pedigree charts, they laid out staggered down, each chart was completed to the point on the right said this line continued on chart #, Person #1 is the same as Person # on Chart#, and the bottom of each sheet had all the surnames that particular page contained. And yes, you could roll up the scroll and tie it closed. This pedigree chart scroll had people back to the 1500s.

The blossoming took place soon after my father died and I realized I only, and just barely knew his parents names and the grandmother who raised him. My mother sent me what she had collected on his family but hadn't pieced it together yet. I memorized the names and not only pieced the family together, but had back to my 4th ggf, but missing the 3rd. I had a choice of 2 of 3 brothers. I had what I thought were the possible brothers in Georgia, and their families. it was a couple years later I was able to collect all 5 brothers, and a total of 10 years before an unpublished manuscript written in 1933 was handed to me that confirmed all my findings and added two sisters, and gave me the name of my 3rd ggf.

And nearly 40 years later, I'm still stuck on my 4th ggf. Regardless that I have nearly every Jester in the US recorded, or have had them recorded and lost my database more times then I can count, compiled a Jester newsletter and collaborated with numerous other Jester researchers over the course of my genealogy career, and have also been involved lightly with Y-DNA and more heavily auDNA.

So yes, my line was hatched in a cabbage patch by eggs artificially fertilized by Jesters who arrived in VA in middle of the 1600s and dropped off from an alien spaceship.
answered by Lynette Jester G2G6 Mach 3 (38.1k points)
+11 votes
As a child of a military family. I was always the new kid, and even when visiting cousins I was the exotic one who came from away. I think my grandparents stories of their childhood gave me a sense of my own roots. When I visited them, I would drag out an old photo album or recipe box and pepper Grandpa or Grandma with questions. Other times I would write them inquisitive letters from afar, and I still have their responses.

But I didn't do much with the information until two years ago, when my father was sick. He finally told me some of the stories I wasn't told as a child, and then he pointed at my smart phone and asked if it might be possible to use the internet to find some of the living cousins we had never met. That night I dragged out the old box of letters from Grandma and signed up on WikiTree.

I still haven't met any living cousins from the lost branch of the family, but the family research has enriched my life in countless other ways, and the journey continues.
answered by Laurie Giffin G2G6 Mach 2 (29.8k points)
+9 votes
For me, it was mostly my grandmother who had always told us about her family. But when she died I "inherited" a spiral notebook filled with old photostats of family history.  At first (pre-computer days) I would just fill in the standard ancestry and descendant forms.  After I got my first computer I got a simple genealogy program and my interest has just blossomed from there.  Eventually my husband, who dabbles in programming made a website for me and I got everything up on the web.  I "met" many cousins through that and the help always went both ways.  My interest had sort of waned for awhile and then about a year and a half ago I discovered WikiTree and I'm back full force (though I can't spend the time some of you seem to be able to) -- I love it!
answered by Robin Shaules G2G6 Mach 3 (33.9k points)
+11 votes
As a child, I loved my grandmother talking about the "olden days" which was colonial New Zealand. I knew a lot about her side of the family, but as my grandfather had passed away, nothing about that branch. While at university in the 1970s, I discovered that his grandfather had been a member of Parliament, but not much more. Then ten years ago, while recovering from surgery that causes chronic pain, I was told to find an engrossing hobby as a form of pain relief. And it works! Family history is so much better than taking pain medication. I've found role models in a line of particularly strong and resourceful women. My life is easy compared to theirs.
answered by Fiona Gilliver G2G6 Mach 5 (59.8k points)
edited by Fiona Gilliver
Love your story, Fiona. I think people who do not know or remember their heritage lose some guiding lights, role models as you called them. And, their lives can surely give us perspective, right? Thanks for sharing this.
+11 votes
It was 1984 and my father asked for help with a family history he was preparing.  I said "Ok, I'll help with the computer stuff but I draw the line at genealogy which is boring beyond belief."  Still addicted in 2018.
answered by Robin Rainford G2G4 (4.7k points)
This is a great story, I think, because it is rather unique. Thanks for sharing it.
+10 votes
My first cousins, both of whom are good, old-fashioned, traditional genealogists. One paid for me to do the DNA test, and that set me down the 'rabbit hole.'  There is an overwhelming amount of information on the internet now, which has helped me to begin to sketch in a tree, leading back to16th Cen. England. Still much to do and to verify, but definitely the various websites and encountering wonderful and helpful genealogists who have already done work on various branches of our family provide some corroboration via the web.  Fascinating!
answered by Patricia Bailey G2G2 (2.1k points)
+8 votes

Science, Art, History and Humanity .. C'est Bon Magnifique !

answered by Jerry Baraboo G2G6 Pilot (469k points)
+8 votes
My mom had talked for years about wanting to trace her family tree, as she did not know much about her ancestors past about the grandparent level.  I was only nominally interested at the time, but I decided to purchase a gift membership to Ancestry for her birthday a few years ago.  After doing that, I thought that I should try to figure out how to use Ancestry myself so that I could help her.  Little did I know that I would become hooked on genealogy myself!
answered by A. Horn G2G1 (1.8k points)
+9 votes

Ooooo, have I got an answer for that...

If you have ever asked me how I got interested in Genealogy, you know that I claim my grandmother caught me as I was being born and started telling me, “Your Grandfather is…”. If you have ever read my bio, you know that in addition to, and in a much more stick to my brain sorta way, another cousin, an influencer, gave me some Hunt Family Papers when I was in High School,

As a Child, my mother, grandmothers, and grandfather would often tell me about my family. Who we were, where we came from and how our family came to be. As a teen I was given some unpublished papers by a Hunt cousin. I scanned them, as teens do, but I kept them. Years later I went back to them and entered the information into Family Tree Maker. Soon after I started my hunt, pardon the pun, in earnest for the rest of my family. – WikiTree Profile Page

This Influencer, Helen “Honey” Hunt, is a distant cousin. Read More... 

Honey's Obituary


answered by Mags Gaulden G2G6 Pilot (448k points)
+10 votes
It was my maternal grandparents that poured their heritage into me from my earliest childhood. Living across the pasture from them made them always accessible. I was fortunate to grow up in an area where many of my ancestors settled in the mid 1700s. Cemeteries galore! Plus the stories to go along with those buried there, whether they were related or not.

I feel as if I could walk through those same cemeteries my grandparents took me to and repeat the same stories. Product of an oral culture.
answered by Pip Sheppard G2G6 Pilot (646k points)
What a wonderful memory Pip!
Thanks, EC!

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