Sunday, March 18, 2012

Family History Tip Week 12

    This week's tip is an easy one:  research your parents' generation.  Try to find birth certificates, marriage records, and if your parents are that old, census records.  (The US Census through 1930 is currently available - 1940 comes online in two weeks.)
Where to find those records?
First, check with your parents.  They may have copies of birth certificates and marriage licenses.  And yes, they might be in the safe deposit box, which means grumbling about FINDING THE KEYS, and then DRIVING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK, and on and on.  So be sweet.  Offer coffee or tea or dessert as a bribe (turn the tables on them!)  Or just offer your time and attention.
You might have to write to the state for the records, and there is usually a fee involved.  But go through the state directly, not through an agency.  You'll pay either way, and you pay less if you do it yourself.  You'll probably need full names and dates (or at least year or range of years) and they usually want some ID from you to show that you are, indeed, related.  A copy of your driver license usually works.
Even if mom and dad have copies of the documents you might want to get your own original.  Just in case.  And if theirs is different (i.e. pre-computerization) do make a copy of their documents for your own files.
Once you get the records compare notes and information.  Are the dates what you were told?  Are parents' names listed?  Addresses?  Were your parents born in the place you thought they were born?  According to the marriage license, were you an 8 pound 5 ounce two months premature baby?  (THAT is a totally different story and fraught with danger when bringing it up to your folks - trust me on that one!)
Now is also the time to decide just how much collateral information you are going to include in your family history.  Will you add in brothers and sisters?  If your folks have school records or newspaper clippings are you going to add those to your collection?  My answer is always "Knowledge is power.  So give me more."  I want to know the names of the siblings of my great-great-grandpa.  I care that my grandmother graduated from high school while her mother only passed the sixth grade.  All of that info adds to the story of the person, makes them real, and brings them to life.  And even if your parents are alive right now, they won't always be here, so gather the info you can, and then ask questions about it all.  
Take notes like you are cramming for a test.
And ask more questions.  Ask for names, addresses, dates.  Ask for colors and prices and numbers.  Ask them how things and people made them feel.  Ask, ask, ask.
     Their story is part of your story.  And the more you understand them and who they are and were, the more you understand yourself.

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