THE BLOG
11/29/2015 08:31 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2016

This Is Holiday Season; Share Your Ancestors' Struggles With the Family

Perhaps your tradition has been to share what you have gratitude for, be it individual or part of a bigger picture. How about switching it up and talk about the heritage of your past. No matter if you hail from Indigenous Native Americans or immigrants recent or from long ago; each person came here from someplace, at some time. Put down the phone for 10 minutes and communicate!

Retelling your historical past will help others understand the current immigration issues that affect us today. My family story was repeated what seemed like ad nauseam, yet it wasn't until recently while attending a genealogy course at Norwalk Community College, http://www.ncc.commnet.edu/ in Norwalk CT. I got the genealogy bug.

The well-attended "Genealogy and Computers" course, part of Lifetime Learners Institute (adults over 50 years old) researcher Janeen Bjork http://janeenslist.com/about-janeen/ walked us through the where and how to find those clues that link us to our distant past. Beware; you might get hooked.

My cousin, Pam Winters did the heavy lifting on our West Family Tree paternal lineage and had already spent countless hours, days, years researching who married whom, dates of birth, places they lived and deaths. I was able to build on what she had already located. Using public records, census records, old news stories, and sometimes Google or any internet search would bring up stories of places and people, helping make sense of dangling threads.

My 92-year-old father willing played his part with a DNA sample, tracing genetic genealogy with Family Tree www.familytreedna.com to help link with others of similar DNA markers. Results haven't come back yet, but perhaps it will help break through some brick walls, and we can find other relatives from the past. Thanks, Dad, your two-minute cheek scraping will be a gift to future generations.

Remember those ads from Ancestry.com, www.ancestry.com where you start plugging in names, and then a green leaf appears, and then another? Genealogy research is a multi-billion dollar industry appealing to historians and aging baby boomers. With databases readily available, success is easier to connect the dots. Some websites are free including Family Search.com www.Familysearch.com, and many are limited or fee based for memberships. Where it can get expensive is when the actual documentation requires a credit card.

It doesn't take long to realize this can be a huge time suck as you get deeper into it, starting with the most recent family names, going back in time, generation by generation. You also gain a heavy dose of history and geography as you trace your ancestors' migration patterns, sometimes based on religion, wars, famine, politics, financial and social reasons.

An easy internet search can produce a goldmine of information. I found a doctoral thesis about a long past Randolph relative who while wealthy, was unmotivated to apply himself, so much so when he asked an uncle for his cousin's hand in marriage, he was turned down.

Then there is Captain Andrew Lee, a member of the "Paxton Boys" http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1188.html and pre-NRA was known to carry his rifle into the church. During the Revolution, General George Washington placed Lt. Lee and his company with Maj. Henry "Light Horse" Lee of Virginia for the June 1780 Battle of Springfield, NJ. That narrative was located in the archives of the Masonic Lodge 61: Wyoming Valley, PA. Continuing research found other references by distant cousins' Sons of the Revolution (SAR) applications. Information found in just a few keywords away.

Attending a genealogy event at the Darien, CT public library conducted by Janeen Bjork led to my speaking with a member of the Middlesex Genealogical Society http://mgs.darien.org/ about his ancestral history, when we realized we are distant cousins via President Thomas Jefferson with the familial roots of the Virginia Randolph's.

No matter where you start, talking about your heritage in a historical context, it may bring about a broader understanding of the world, and it's events closer to home.