American Genealogy: How to Trace Your American Family Tree

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American Genealogy: How to Trace Your American Family Tree

If you are looking to trace your American family tree, then get this guide.
Genealogy is increasingly popular these days. The popularity of the television show “Who Do You Think You Are” and the plethora of websites and books on the subject (this book included) attest to the popularity of understanding the present by uncovering the past. Just one hour of television viewing can bring you several commercials for Ancestry.com, and that’s just one genealogy service. There are magazines, blogs, podcasts, and even degree programs about genealogy. Genealogy has become big business, worth over $1.6 billion - that’s billion with a “b” - in 2012 alone. Why this sudden fascination with tracing our roots?
Some people say it’s because the modern world is in such a state of confusion and flux that the past, that golden realm where all of the bad things are over and everything has already happened, can see like a much safer place to put our attention. I actually think that in our drive to be more self-aware, we have discovered that to know who we are, we really need to know who we’ve been and where we come from.
There is so much that can be learned from researching your family’s past, not just about the people who came before you, but also about the world as it once was. A family tree is history writ small, showing the effects of larger events on individuals, and sometimes the influence of individuals on larger events. It’s a personalized form of history, with a bit of old-fashioned detective work thrown in for good measure. It’s a treasure hunt and a mental puzzle, and the thrill of discovering some new nugget of information is a very real thing.
As you go back in time with your family names and dates, you’ll make little stops in different eras of history, like a time traveler. Take each of these stops as opportunities to look out the windows of the house of the family that you’re building. Let’s say that you were born in 1969. You don’t have any clear memories of that year, obviously. What was happening in your town that year? In your state? In your country? The year you were born was the end of the turbulent 1960s, a decade of change. The Vietnam War was being fought, and the conflict was being televised for the first time. Did you have relatives fighting at Khe Sanh? Did they come back? Was it your father? Your older brother? Was your cousin neighbor a hippie, while the rest of your family supported the government? Or was it the exact opposite? Look out the window at 1969. Try to get to know it, and understand how the history of that year colored who you became.
Now look at your mother. Suppose that she was born in 1946. That was the year after World War II ended, at the start of the Baby Boom. She was born only months after the first nuclear weapon was detonated over Japan. Your mother was one of those children who were taught to duck and cover in the 1950s during the darkest days of the Cold War. How did that affect her outlook on life? Did she have uncles who went to war, or did her father fight? Where did she live? How many siblings did she have? Look at 1946 and get to know it.
Do this process at every stop on your family tree, and you will find yourself building a truly epic generational saga. You don’t have to be a Kennedy or a family in fiction to have dramatic stories in your family tree...and we’re still only two generations into the line.
Genealogy is amazing.
Your ancestors traveled long and far to get you to where you are, and to make you into the person you are today. We have many characteristics that come from the people in our families who came before us, things that go beyond eye color and the texture of our hair.

About the Expert
Jody Cummings is an amateur genealogist who has been researching her family tree for more than 13 years. She earned a B.A. in History, Spanish and Anthropology from the Michigan State University Honors College and has published several novels under the name J. A. Cummings.

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