In early 2014, my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, disappeared for about two weeks. She signed up for a trial with Ancestry.com and the only time I saw her was when I walked by her computer. She was hooked, and I didn’t understand why until about six months later. That was when she finally convinced me to start a tree. And that’s when I got hooked.
It seems that most families have a historian, and mine is no exception. In the 1960s, my great uncle began work on my Kennedy line. He did it the old-fashioned way, through conversations at family reunions or through snail-mail. He collected over 300 names, and the tree goes back eight generations from me, stopping at my fifth great-grandparents (that is, my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents). It took about two weeks to enter all of the names, and I thought I was going to make Ancestry.com blow up with all of the leaves popping up on my tree. But that was just the beginning.
After using Ancestry and other online resources for a while, I decided to go to the next level and visited libraries, courthouses, the State Archives, and joined genealogical societies. What I found amazed me. I learned of my sixth great-grandfather, who emigrated from Ireland in 1767 and fought in the Revolution under William Moultrie in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island. I found my third-great grandfather’s brother, who died at the Battle of Sharpsburg in 1862.
I also learned that while serving in the U.S. Navy in WWII, my great uncle served on the same ship as Henry Heimlich, and the two of them attended a showing of the Russian Ballet in China. He told me himself while I was asking him about our family history.
Only after talking with other folks did I realize how lucky I am to have started in my mid-thirties. You see, most of the folks that I talk with who share my interest in genealogy started at a much later time in their lives, and because of that, many of them were not able to ask the generations before them about their families. They may have missed out on stories, anecdotes, photographs or family keepsakes.
In fact, while recently going through some boxes in the attic, my mother and I found family trees for her line that trace back into the mid-1700s, along with old family photos and letters. We didn’t even know these existed, and now we both get to share in discovering our ancestors together.
Genealogy has sparked conversations in the family that we might not have otherwise had. Sometimes they were about things that my parents might not have thought would have interested me, and other times they may have been about things I heard when I was younger but didn’t remember.
Genealogy also helps to give context to periods of history that we all may have studied in school, because learning about the lives of your ancestors during those times makes the history come alive. And it makes it more personal.
On June 27, 2016, my father and I joined the Sons of the American Revolution together, one day before the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island. Little did we know that during the dozens of my childhood trips to Fort Moultrie, we were literally walking in the footsteps of our forefather.
Last month, during our annual family trip to Charleston, we visited Fort Moultrie again. It has always been a special place for us, but if my wife hadn’t encouraged me to venture into genealogy, we never would have realized just how special a place it truly is.
If you’re thinking about venturing into genealogy, start now. There’s no better time. You may learn more about your family, and yourself, than you thought possible. Share these moments with the generations before you. I’ve never heard anyone complain about starting too early, but I have heard many people wish that they hadn’t started so late.
The Augusta Genealogical Society would like to invite the public to attend our discussion group on solving genealogical brick walls at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at 1109 Broad St. We look forward to seeing you there.
IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR THE AUGUSTA GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY, E-MAIL IT, WITH “ANCESTOR SEARCH” IN THE SUBJECT LINE, TO AUGUSTAGENSOCIETY@COMCAST.ORG.