Monday, December 22, 2014

The Joy of Family History by Heidi Wessman Kneale

In my novella FOR RICHER, FOR POORER, our heroine Beatrice Nottham love family history. In fact, she'd love to get as much of it done before she moves off-world. She was able to go back more than a thousand years on many of her lines.

Family History, sometimes called genealogy, gives you a sense of who you are and where you've come from. Your own family history is full of facts and figures, interesting stories and quite a few mysteries. Family History is the fastest growing hobby in the world.

Have you considered doing your family history? Here's how you can get started.

1. Living History. The best information comes from those who are still alive. Are your parents still living? Your grandparents, great-grandparents? As you spend time with your family this Holiday season, take some time to ask about the stories your living relatives know. Write them down. Ask about birthdays, marriages, and more. Ask for funny stories, war stories, ask what they remember about their grandparents.

These stories are valuable and need to be saved. Alas, when a person dies, they will take their stories with them, unless they have been written down and preserved.

2. Hatches, Matches and Dispatches. Some of the easiest-to-find information about your ancestors is their dates of birth, marriage and death. This makes filling out a genealogy chart so much easier. Often newspaper archives will contain records of birth, engagement/marriage and death announcements, sometimes with pictures.

3. Finding info. Family members are usually the best for remembering this kind of information, but sometimes you need outside help. Governments maintain a registry of births, deaths and marriages. For a small fee (ie a few dollars), they will provide you with legal certificates showing this information.

If you've gone back three or four generations, you may be able to find additional records through a paid genealogy site such as or FindMyPast. Many public libraries have a subscription to these sites, giving free access to their patrons.

Also, Family History Centers dot the world. You can research your family history there for free (Google "Family History Center" or "Centre" if you're British to find your nearest location). They'll give you access to census data, microfiche records and more--information that may not be readily available on the Internet. Their friendly consultants will help you if you get stuck.

4. Stuck? Go sideways. It happens to every family historian--you hit a dead end. No matter how hard you look, you simply can't find any parental info for Fergus MacIntosh, your ninth-great grandfather. Perhaps the church records of his birth were destroyed in a church fire, or maybe he was an escaped criminal who changed his name? Whatever the reason, do not give up on your family history simply because you encounter a dead end.

You've set up your branches on your family tree. Now go fill in the side twigs. Research brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. Family history doesn't have to be only your direct line of descent. In some cases, this side research can uncover information that may solve your dead end mystery.

5. Record your own stories. Remember, you're a link in your family history too. By writing down your stories, you will be able to share them with your children and grandchildren. Your life is fascinating to them.

In FOR RICHER, FOR POORER, Beatrice was able to trace her genealogy back a thousand years because she was able to tap into a line of nobility. They were very good record-keepers. Her research into Phillipe Deveraux and Gytha of Wessex is the basis of the whole story. Because someone had thought to write their stories down, Beatrice was able to discover something that would bless her and her descendants for the rest of her life.

Heidi Kneale

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