The holidays are once again upon us, also the time of the week to write another “Out of the Past’ column. Someone recently asked me how I think of so much history to write about. As most people now know, genealogy and history has become a part of my life. But let me assure you, putting a weekly column together with new ideas is not easy.

This morning I received a phone call. The voice on the line asked, “Do you do genealogy? My answer was cautious (as I’ve learned to answer most questions). The reply given was, “ I help with genealogy.” (I’d like to insert here, Priscilla Jones of Belfast, was noted for her many, many years’ collection of genealogical data. She often said that she did not consider herself a genealogist, but rather a genealogical researcher. Those who are licensed frown upon us calling ourselves genealogists.)

If I have accomplished anything in this column, I would like to think that it has encouraged people to cherish their heritage and to piece together their roots and ancestry for themselves. In a recent conversation, the statement came up, “Life is short!” You realize how short it is when doing this type of work. Every chart starts out with the date of birth, and ends with date of death.

It is said that every person leaves their mark in this world, however large or small. But it is difficult to trace the tracks left by some.

A question often asked is, “How do I start to do genealogy?” All experts (and I don’t claim to be one) say to start with what you know. Start with yourself. Write your thoughts, hopes, dreams and aspirations into a little journal. A journal is different from a diary, but a diary can become a journal.

Ask your parents and grandparents questions. The most lamented statement heard by fellow researchers is, “I didn’t take the time to ask questions or to be interested while my parents or grandparents were alive.”

Think of the vast amount of history in the minds of our older generation. Just think of the increase in technology they have witnessed, many from near the turn of their century. The tales that they can tell us!

My father’s memories of his youth when he was raised by his grandmother in Belmont were priceless. He told of going to school in the one-room (then newly-built) schoolhouse at Greers’ Corner when the means of transportation was walking or horse and wagon.

When one of the first automobiles, a Stanley Steamer, went by the schoolhouse, the teacher allowed the students to watch at the window, and the boys to go outside and watch. A few years later in some Belmont diaries was written, “One car by today” or ‘a plane went over today”. How much times have changed! (This was on a now well-traveled public road.)

The holidays are a time of family gatherings. After you are filled with turkey, mince and apple pie, and the dishes are done, sit down with Grandma and Grampa. Ask them about life when they were growing up. Ask them if they have pictures of those by-gone days, or pictures of their parents and grandparents.

As you look at the pictures, you will often find that they have no identification written on them. Remember that every generations will not know who they were. As you go through your own pictures, you will find that you do not always remember which baby was which, or which one is your brother, sister or cousin. Sit down with Grandma and ask who each one is, and whether she minds if you write names and dates on the back of the pictures. (There are pencils especially made for writing on photos. It’s often much safer to write on a self-stick acid-free label, and put on the back of the photo. Do not write hard or bear down on the photos, and if possible write near the edges.)

Don’t forget the dates. I worked on a family who took great pains to write the names of each child, cousin, aunt, uncle and so on, but never recorded a date for them.

The Federal census was taken every ten years from 1790 to the present. (When I originally wrote this, the census records were on microfilm at the State Library, up to 1920. Presently they are online, and can be viewed up to 1940.) The later records were not available because of the Right to Privacy laws.

The census gives great insight as to the names and ages of the family members and who lived in the household. (The 1880 and later census recorded the relationship of the individual to the head of household.)

Give your family a tremendous gift of the ages for the holidays. Put together a little history of your family, complete with pictures. Don’t forget to put a copy in the local library or Historical society. (The modern media of scanning and printing photos ensures that each interested member of the family receives excellent quality copies of family photos and documents. There is no reason to pass on less than excellent copy of family photos.)

The copy centers will make multiple good copies at a minimal price, so that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Ann in the family can have a copy of the family history. A few years ago I did a history of my father’s family in a cookbook, with family recipes and photos. It was a great hit with others as well as family members. (Note: Since this was originally written, another generation has shown interest in the Family cookbook.)

This was originally printed in ‘Out Of The Past’ in The Republican Journal Nov. 26, 1992.