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Family Trees: How Far Does the Apple Really Fall?

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familyThe moral of the story is that if you want to trace your family tree proceed at your own risk and with the understanding that only you can prevent forest fires. You may not want to meet the skeleton that lives way in the back of your hall closet, but you must prepare yourself for the fact that he or she may want to meet YOU head-on! If after hearing all this, you still desire to discover the truth about your individual pedigree, at least learn how to go about it in the right manner. Find out how to research using public archives, the Internet, local history fairs and history groups, all of which can help you in tracking down your ancestry (as if it were a wild animal, if you will). Consider your quest a mystery puzzle in which you have one or a few of the necessary pieces. The whole matter reminds me of a Colombo episode in which each murder victim was killed because they had one piece of a puzzle that in total formed a complete photograph (Don’t kill anyone, but bear this in mind. You may need to buy a wrinkled raincoat as well, but hey, what the hell?)

family tree Any detective story worth its salt has to have relevant clues to help solve the mystery. As an amateur genealogist, you will have to learn to gather clues which like rose petals, will fall as they may. The first step is to talk to as many family members as possible to obtain first-hand accounts, memories and stories, especially from elder generations. Nothing, however, should be taken at face value and all family "stories" must be investigated before they can be considered the truth. Clues abound within old correspondence, photos, heirlooms and other items you might find in trunks, attics, cellars and drawers. Try to establish exactly where the family came from, as this will play an important role in where to search for relevant records.

One of the most powerful tools available is the Internet. With easy to use guides, genealogical searching can become an enjoyable pastime instead of an endless frustrating quest for other birds of the same feather. It can offer, among other things, online surname data banks, which will search for your family name free of charge. It can also provide thousands of free genealogy-related mailing lists and tell you how to have them delivered to your e-mail account. (You’ll never be lonely for e-mail again!) Your knowledge can also be expanded by subscribing to the best genealogy discussion lists, newsletters and web zines and having them sent to your email account. For further information, simply log in to

Now you have the tools needed to uncover the naked, formally and formerly dressed truth about your family’s past. Remember that once you know, you can never not know again. (It’s kind of like Thomas Wolfe’s dilemma about not being able to come home again.) You will need courage to persevere, especially after the "bad" information starts flowing. Bear in mind that there can be positive results. Knowing your ancestors can reconnect you to your life, put flesh on those old forgotten bones and give new meaning to the past. If you need a pint of blood from a relative or a transplant of some organ, you may be able to count on new and unexpected sources of help. Watch out for operating costs though. The last I heard, tree surgeons were very, very expensive!


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And now they have a new database: the U.S. Immigration Collection. Passenger lists from all of the major ports of arrival, covering the 17th through 20th centuries.

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