What Got You Into Researching Your Family History?

Genealogy isn’t just about digging for facts. It’s about telling stories — our stories.

Sometimes curiosity about those stories alone is enough to drive us into researching our family histories. But sometimes it’s more than that — something specific we wanted to learn about ourselves, a particular connection that drove our passion to know more, or maybe even a school assignment that piqued our interest.

Today, let’s share those stories. What got you into researching your family’s history?

Why I Got Into Genealogy at 16

I know a lot of people are required to do limited family trees in school as children. I wasn’t one of them (or if I was, it didn’t impact me, as I don’t even remember it). For me, the urge to dig into my family history hit at 16 years old (hard to believe I’ve been at this for more than 20 years now).

It was initially just curiosity. But then it became more driven by a family member’s stories.

The first thing I decided to do was talk to my older relatives — namely my three living grandparents at the time.

One of my grandfathers was a German immigrant to the United States.

He seemed to enjoy sharing stories of his time in Germany as a child during WWII, and his move here when he was a teenager, along with one of his brothers. It was one of those things where an older relative tells their stories over and over, and people kind of stop paying attention or think they’re exaggerating (which other family members later found out he wasn’t doing).

In me, he had a captive audience. Someone who not only listened, but asked questions, and who wanted to know more. And it was that dynamic that really drove my interest further — wanting to know more about what he’d been through (still the hardest line for me to trace because so much of their area was destroyed in the war), but also seeing things in my grandfather I hadn’t seen before — things that also helped me understand me and where I come from so much better. So it was about that connection, but also self-discovery.

To this day, that’s what my family history research is all about. The more I discover about my roots, the more I understand myself. Focusing on just my parents, I never understood where I got my independence, headstrong nature, big mouth, and risk-taking drive. I never understood why the family around me every day was full of people-pleasers while I was principled to the point of defying authority at every turn. I didn’t understand why I could be so sure at a young age that I would never be happy working for someone else (I’m my own boss and have been for a long time now).

But then I look at the long line of fearless, independent-minded, go-getters I actually come from:

  • The grandfather who started his own business
  • The other grandfather who left his family and life behind in Germany to start a new life in the States as a young man
  • The female relative who killed her abuser to save her own life
  • The German family members who stood up to the Nazis even though it led to members being sent to camps and the family losing everything they had after the war
  • The cop who helped take down a well-known mobster
  • The ancestors driven out of England due to religious persecution who became founding families in the U.S.
  • And all the everyday people who lived the lives they chose, battled against odds when stacked against them, and found ways to survive and thrive even in tragic circumstances.

In all of that, I learned that I wasn’t some freak… some anomaly who “didn’t belong,” which is how I used to feel. I learned that it’s okay to be strong, and speak your mind, and do your own thing even if others try to make you feel uncomfortable doing that. I learned that sometimes the outcasts take the biggest chances and make the biggest differences. And that’s something I’m proud to be descended from.

So that’s why I got into researching my family tree. And it’s why I still do to this day.

How about you?

Jenn is a professional writer and publisher, and the founder of Climb Your Family Tree.

She first became interested in genealogy as a teenager. Since that early start, she's spent 28 years putting her personal passion and professional research skills to use in exploring her own family history while assisting others in their genealogical journeys.

In addition to running Climb Your Family Tree, Jenn is a long-time PR, social media, and online marketing specialist and she's been a digital publisher / web developer for over 20 years. She owns a variety of web properties including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, Kiss My Biz, and NakedPR.

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