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Using Genealogy to Study History

Updated on July 11, 2011
A photograph of the two-dimensional work of art depicting the family tree of Herzog Ludwig in the public domain because the copyright has expired.
A photograph of the two-dimensional work of art depicting the family tree of Herzog Ludwig in the public domain because the copyright has expired.

Did anyone else find their history classes to be terribly tedious and remarkably uninformative? Or perhaps it was just me. Endless dates and very little discussed beyond wars, it's not surprising I got board. However, history I do find to be fascinating is my family's personal history. Moreover, I believe it will be a great tool for teaching my children about history.

History became more alive and real for me when I could place people I was related to in the midst of it. Whether it was a war or pioneering the history seemed more vital because I could envision my ancestors walking through it. And by equipping myself with their stories I will be able to make history come alive for my daughters as well.

Now I just need to consider how I want to approach it because genealogy is history back to front. So should I work with my daughters researching our genealogy together and move through history from the present back into the past? I am thinking that it might be better to give them a basic history groundwork upon which to frame their ancestral knowledge. But again I want to keep the information they receive vital and interesting. To that end I am choosing to use biography stories of famous people at critical junctions of history. And I will add to that whatever pertinent personal family nuggets of information I have acquired. Then when we've established our framework the girls will begin to explore our family genealogy. (I am undetermined as to how much of my research I will give them. But I have some time yet before I have to decide.)

A Multitude of Tools

With the Internet there are now more tools then ever available to the family genealogist. Some cost money but there are a number of free options available as well.

  • Ancestryis obviously a big name in genealogy. They provide easy access to a lot of information but you will be required to pay a monthly fee. Also the Family Tree Maker software is geared toward use with the Ancestry site.
  • My Heritage is also a site requiring payment. However, their free trial is by the number of people researched not time passed so you can usually get more information from their site without shelling out cash. Also the My Heritage uses the Family Tree Builder software, which they provide for free. However, again it tops out at 250 people unless you pay to upgrade.
  • Roots Webis a completely free site. But it is important to bear in mind that not all the information submitted is carefully researched. Check that the family tree you reference lists sources. Also, consider sharing your information with your fellow researchers. Then others who share your ancestors will have an avenue for contacting you and perhaps providing valuable information about your family.
  • United States Census data is available for free though the files are zipped and not everything is online. However, the site also provides a link to your local Federal Depository Library for volumes not available online.
  • Interment.netis a free online source for cemetery transcriptions. But if you do use their services consider providing transcriptions from a local cemetery as payment. By providing information you encourage others to do the same and perhaps they will provide that missing piece of data you were looking for.
  • Find a Graveis another free online source for cemetery transcriptions. The site allows you to search by state and county. You can also leave virtual flowers on the virtual grave. Another way for fellow researchers to know you are investigating that branch of the family and potentially get in touch with you.
  • Finally never underestimate a Google search for which ever family member you are researching. If another descendant researched that branch of the family tree they often want to show off their hard work. What better way to show the world what they've done then by creating a web page dedicated to the knowledge they have acquired.

So, that should be more than enough information to get you started. Happy hunting and if you do become an enthusiast remember most people just want the stories not all the nitty-gritty you uncover. Keep it interesting and fun and your children might soon join you in your new passion.

some of the members of my own family tree
some of the members of my own family tree


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    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I agree that history in school often proved to be tedious and boring. However, my 11th grade world history teacher was far more creative and entertaining. Instead of focusing on dates and wars, she focused on "motivation!" Just typing that word gives me goose bumps, because it made history come alive for me. Boy, I wish we had more teachers like her.

      Your hub, here, also helps history come alive. You show a visceral connection to us all -- our own roots.

      Outstanding! Thanks for the resources, too.