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FEATURE STORY

FAMILY HISTORY RECORDS PROVIDE A WINDOW TO THE PAST

A web site with 50 million hits an hour and a staggering 1.8 billion hits in its first 10 months of service. What magical Internet site draws that kind of traffic? If you failed to guess itís a site dedicated to family history, youíre probably not alone. But thatís exactly what happened when FamilySearch.org was launched in May of 1999.

Family history research now ranks as the third most popular hobby in the United States and the second most popular topic on the Internet. And it shows no signs of slowing down. A recent AT&T survey found that 99% of respondents wanted to learn more about their roots, an interesting statistic, considering that another survey showed three out of four college students in this country canít even give the complete names of all four of their grandparents. Can you?

If remembering the names of our grandparents is a challenge, what about ancestors who lived several generations ago? Itís estimated that about 74 billion people have lived on the earth during recorded history, and around six billion of their names are written down - somewhere! But where in the world can you find the records of your ancestors? And how do you know if the records even exist?

Sometimes we incorrectly assume that our ancestors left no evidence of their existence. In reality their lives were a lot like our own, and the records they created represent the same important life events we all experience. Think about it. Births, deaths and marriages are routinely recorded, but records are also generated when we buy a home, pay taxes, enroll in school, drive a car, serve in the military, write a will, apply for a passport, or begin a new job.

Those same kinds of records were created by our ancestors, and many of them still exist. Libraries, archives, and computer databases provide indexes to millions of records that are available to the general public. Vital, census, military, immigration, religious, land and probate records are just a few of the popular sources used by family historians as windows to the past.

The fascinating world of family history records will be explored in Ancestors, a new PBS series. Ancestors will show viewers what seasoned genealogists have always known - that when we are fortunate enough to find records about our ancestors, we find more than just old pieces of paper with names and dates. We find the joy of a wedding day, the hardships of an ocean voyage, the loss of loved ones, and a sense of our ancestorís place in history. In short, we find the hopes and dreams of those whose lives had everything to do with who we are, how we look, where we live, and what we value most. And thatís what family history research is all about.

For more information about Ancestors, and to find the air dates and times in your area, visit the Ancestors web site at www.byubroadcasting.org/ancestors or contact your local PBS station.

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MORE IDEAS FOR LOCAL FEATURES

One Hundred Years From Now, Will Anyone Know Who You Were?

The answer to that question will probably depend upon how well the records of your life are preserved and passed down.

Explore ways that individuals are leaving legacies for their descendants through personal journals, published family histories, and well-documented photographs. Discuss ways to preserve records and photographs, and the importance of acid-free papers and archival quality storage materials. Feature a local business that specializes in heirloom-quality products. Highlight creative ways of preserving family history, such as through quilts, samplers, art, and home movies.

(Writing a Family History, a section on the Ancestors web site, has great information on preserving documents and photographs)

 

The Best Stories Start at Home

Everyone has a story to tell. Did your ancestor help tame the Wild West or take up arms in the Civil War? Once you start exploring your familyís history, youíll find all the drama of a Hollywood blockbuster right in your own family. Exploring family stories and legends through personal interviews, also called oral history, is one of the most rewarding parts of doing family history research. Itís learning about the past from the people who lived it.

Explain why itís best to start with your oldest living relative. For example, your grandparentsí memories of their grandparents link five generations. Modern technology has provided wonderful tools for family history interviews. Discuss ways that audio and video tape and new digital applications are being used. Work with a local film or television expert to provide tips for successful on-camera interviews.

(Conducting an Oral History Interview, a section on the Ancestors web site, has a list of suggested interview questions)

 

Family History in Unlikely Places

When youíre looking for records about your ancestors, youíll probably start with the most familiar ones, like birth and death certificates. But there are many lesser-known records to search that are interesting and valuable. People often look for an ancestorís tombstone or cemetery records but fail to check the funeral home records. Old fire department and insurance maps show every building and residence in a community and help you determine where an ancestor might have gone to church, established his business, or even bought his groceries! If your ancestor couldnít pay his debts, maybe his Poor House records are available. Check also for landed estate records if your ancestor was a peasant who owed labor to the lord of the manor. Sometimes, heirlooms contain engravings or notes that provide important family history clues.

Work with a local genealogist to explore little-known records in your area and uncover heart-warming stories about using records found in the most unlikely places.

(The Ancestors web site contains detailed information about specific record types)

Ancestors Contact:

Diena Simmons
KBYU Television
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
Tel: 801/422-8450
fax: 801/422-8478
diena_simmons@byu.edu

 

All material made available courtesy of ANCESTORS/KBYU ©2001. All Rights Reserved.