In my church, family history is considered pretty important. Family ties are a key part of our religion, so of course the names and stories of our ancestors matter to us. When I was younger, I had no idea where to begin with this, but in the past couple of years, thanks to FamilySearch, I've gotten into doing family history. Here are a few things that I've learned:
1) FamilySearch is a mess. This is probably true of any family history site that can be edited by the public. For a while, I was trying to clean up my family lines, to see how far back they could be traced. In doing so I discovered that there are about 100000 duplicate entries for anyone with a title (Lord, Duke, King, etc.). And no matter how much work you do to merge them together, new entries will constantly appear. Everyone wants to be related to royalty, and apparently a lot of them don't know how to find the existing entry. This also means that a lot of false claims of heritage come up. As such, I gave up on that project. Now I just focus on adding sources and untangling the more recent family lines.
2) There are a lot of fictional people once you get far enough back. I don't know if FamilySearch members don't realize that these people are likely fictional, or if they're going off of the theory that even these fictional people have a grain of truth to their existence. I'm comfortable working off of that last one personally--after all, once you get far enough back, stories are really all the record you have. But it was interesting to see how, in my lines at least, Christian figures and ancient Anglo-Saxon gods collide to create a strangely cobbled-together pedigree.
We are definitely related.
3) Women disappear from the pedigree much faster than men do. This is unsurprising, really, given that women weren't considered worthy of record for much of history, and they also weren't taught how to write their own records down. Still, I find it frustrating how many birth records have a male parent but no female parent. I tend to focus on the women in my family history work, because I want to find their stories and I want them to be recognized.
(Another thought: though I don't know this from my own genealogy, I've read posts from people of color, especially black people, online talking about how much of a struggle it is to find their own ancestors. Again, records weren't kept for them and they usually couldn't keep records for themselves. Projects like Alex Haley's are honestly incredible for how much they've been able to uncover.)
4) You can find a lot of interesting names in your genealogy. Good ideas for characters (or future children), right? Here are just a few examples from mine:
5) Historically, many last names were taken from the father's first name. When I got into family history, I already knew that in Norse countries, many "last names" were actually the first name of the individual's father followed by a gender-specific identifier: i.e. "Larsson" or "Larsdottir." Over time, as last names were standardized, the female identifier dropped out (surprise, surprise).
I didn't know, however that Scottish names followed a similar pattern--"O'Riley" is "of Riley," with Riley being the father's name. Irish names also do this: "FitzPatrick" would be the son of Patrick, with "FerchPatrick" (or "VerchPatrick") being the feminine version (which was also lost during standardization). In general, other last names are often taken from the family job of the time, a notable feature (like red hair), or the location where the family lived.
6) There was just as much drama back in ye olden times as there is now. Here are some of stories I discovered:
More than anything, when it comes to family history, I wish I could read the personal accounts of my female ancestors. Unfortunately, only a handful kept journals (likely because women weren't literate for most of history), and most of those, I don't have access to. I just have these stories that were posted on FamilySearch. From the diary entries I have read, I know that much of their writing is devoted to farm duties and other things I have no interest in. I know also that brutal stories of trauma are often included, and those can be hard on my mental health. But family dynamics, love stories, and other personal aspects are sprinkled into these diaries, and those are the things I want to read. I want to know the things we have in common. I want to know if my ancestors fangirled over books or struggled with chronic pain or fell head-over-heels in love and had no idea how to talk to the guy they liked.
Hopefully in the future, I'll have access to more of those stories. In the meantime, I'm writing my own in my unnecessarily enormous diary collection. In the future, my progeny will have plenty of information about me (more than they want, I'm sure). I think it's important, though, that we record our stories so that the world can know about us. So that the stories of women (and people of color, and every other group that has been unable to tell them in the past) are passed on. Because stories are what bind us together as people, and all those stories deserve to be heard.
Thanks for reading this post! Tell me about your experience with family history, and I'll be back next week with a post about some of my keepsakes.
Images via ldsmag.com, Celtic_Warlock on AminoApps, orthodoxwiki.org, imgflip.com, funlurnsvg.com, and danazemack.com.
I'm an unpublished novelist, primarily of YA fantasy, and a freelance editor. I love psychology, cats, social justice, and love! I'm also a huge fangirl. More than anything, stories are my life.
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