When I started my genealogical journey in 2004, I would spend hours on end on the Internet searching every ancestral name I knew about. With every “find” I’d virtually squeal with delight (and sometimes I truly did squeal!), clap my hands, and even jump up and down. There was something exciting in seeing the name of a second-great-grandfather on a census record from 1880! At times it would bring a flood of sentimental, nonsensical, emotion to the surface. Nonsensical? Yes, nonsensical. I mean, to genealogists, finding new ancestors is exciting enough to bring forth some form of emotion. To non-genealogists, however, jumping for joy and squealing with delight over the written name of a person who died 100 years before you were born could be considered nonsensical.
It wasn’t far into my research that I started to appreciate the art of analyzing historical documents during a genealogical endeavor. Sometimes I would learn that my great-uncle shared the same political beliefs as my niece, who never met any of her paternal grandparents or their siblings. Sometimes I would learn that cracking a joke in the most serious of situations (or, more true-to-life, stifling a joke in the most serious of situations) is not merely a method of dealing with an awkward moment but a product of my Irish heritage. Which in and of itself can represent a large component of my genealogical research: Understanding the culture of my ancestors’ homelands and how that impacted their lives, and by extension, mine.
My column for The In-Depth Genealogist is entitled “Ancestral Profiling” and is dedicated to the art of using historical data to learn about your ancestors as people. See, I was unfortunate in some respect in the timing of my genealogical interests: I didn’t become interested in this research until long after my grandparents and their siblings died or lost touch with current generations. Using historical data to learn about my grandparents, their siblings, and their predecessors is virtually the only means I have at my disposal to meet my ancestral goals.
Before I delve into secondary sources of information into ancestral personalities, I will be focusing on teaching the art of the Oral Family History. So many of us first became interested in family history research because of stories our grandparents told or because of secrets our great-aunt unsuccessfully tried to keep. So I begin my series with tips and tricks to the perfect Oral Interview with current, living familial ties. Stay tuned to next month’s edition of The In-Depth Genealogist Digi-Mag for some helpful hints on how to draw out the stories of your ancestors!
Colleen McHugh is the author of Ancestral Profiling, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist that helps you learn more about your ancestors as individuals. Colleen also blogs on Orations of OMcHodoy.
© Colleen McHugh 2012