Genealogically Speaking

By Joan Koster-Morales, Professional Genealogist and Historian 

What's the genealogy hype? 

Genealogy today is one of the leading hobbies in the world of both young and old. For those who choose to search for their ancestors, it is the one unique mystery of which we share only with our siblings, perhaps! A journey into the past can yield many new and interesting facts that prompt our inquisitive minds to dig further into the past giving us new insight into our own heritage. 

It comes as quite a surprise to many people who start their search that so much information is available to us. Years ago the search was much more difficult due to the geographic availability of records as well as the nature of the records. Today with the advent of the internet which has sparked a multitude of websites that aid in our search, our quest is greatly enhanced. It seems that many people feel that the old records have been destroyed and there is no chance to find anything. Although this could be true in some instances and the road can be rocky, it is just not the case for most, so do not give up before you start 

Most people that begin their genealogy are mainly interested in finding that place of birth of their immigrant ancestor. In time, as the search progresses they become interested in their family history and want to know more about the ancestors they have found. Our genealogy then opens up new learning experiences and takes us on a journey into demographics, law, world history, medicine, and anything else that might allow us to understand that which affected our ancestors in a given place and time in the past. 

History suddenly takes on a personal light and can become a family affair. Suddenly you start looking for those elusive cousins your parents spoke about. Why not? They too shared your grandparents. Family stories that were passed down may take on a new twist when told by another branch of the family. Never disregard family tradition as there is usually always a pearl of truth that may have been embellished through the ravages of time. 

Genealogy has become a great way to bring the elder family members into the spotlight. As we get older our long term memories come forward and our elders can share with us many wonderful stories that we many never hear again. It is a wonderful experience for them to give to the family tradition. 

In today’s modern world of scientific discovery and genetics, genealogy has also turned a new corner. Besides the desire to find out who our ancestors were many are now increasingly interested in their ancestor’s state of health and what contributed to their demise. This knowledge can be helpful in many ways. It may reveal the origins of certain medical conditions we see today in our families that might be helped with the new advances of medical science and genetics. For most of us, however, it can be a warning to practice preventative medicine so that we do not fall victim to some of our ancestors’ maladies. This is the new genealogy and for whatever reasons we chose to pursue the hunt of our forbearers it should certainly be an interesting road and enhance our lives. 

What are these magical records that will take us into our personal heritage you might ask? The answer will be different for each of us but there are many avenues that will be the same. The very first place to start is in our own family attic and with those family members that might remember the most which are usually the eldest. Once that is done then the research begins. 

Today if most of us know where we or our parents lived in 1930, we all have a good chance if we know nothing more than that since we have the great advantage of the 1930 Federal Census which is currently indexed and available to us. This particular census can be the launching point to take us back in time which will hopefully lead us to earlier census records. As the many clues begin to accumulate other records, and not necessarily in the order presented in this article, come into play. As most of you might guess, vital records are also a great source of information for the years they were recorded and if we are lucky enough to get beyond those years, religious records may come into play. Court, military, voter registrations, cemeteries and interestingly enough the Social Security Administration records will also add to the mix. These are the more common resources and certainly not the only ones that might be consulted if you decide to not only find out who those ancestors are but really want to know what they were doing once you actually find them. 

You might say, OK, now what??? Well have no fear since we in America have great resources at hand. Yes, we can get many microfilms in libraries near home were we can continue the research of American records but also of our foreign ancestral families and for those of us who are really enthusiastic, we can subscribe to websites for a fee that will enable us to do the research from our own home. “Viva la computer technology.” 

Hopefully this introductory information has enlightened the reader. In future installments of “Genealogically Speaking” I hope to cover various record sources individually at a more detailed level with some interesting examples the genealogist might encounter. If this brief article has inspired you to be your “family detective” then join the bandwagon of genealogists; I am sure you will enjoy the ride and you never know what you will find along the way. 

Until then,


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