Retirees across the country are providing their families with an unconventional legacy—knowledge of their family heritage. It’s no surprise that in the age of the internet, ancestry and genealogy research has become the second-most popular hobby for older Americans after gardening, according to TIME Magazine. Building a family tree and sharing personal histories can also help to unite the generations by creating talking points with children and grandchildren and can even create connections with long-lost relatives.
Getting started with your family history may seem a little daunting but whatever information you can gather will certainly be a gift for later generations and the best place to start your research is with yourself. Begin by recording your birthdate and birthplace followed by those of your parents and grandparents. This can be done using something called a Family Group Sheet which often includes marriage dates and places, and for every deceased family member, dates and places of burial. You can download a free family group sheet and more from Ancestry.com.
Next, add some of the important details like the birth of children, schools attended and professions. Even the smallest personal detail like your grandmother being a pianist can be especially important or inspirational to the budding young musician in your family. Painting the most detailed story possible of an individual or a particular family can help to bring your ancestors to life through your family history. Much can be learned by using diaries, journals, newspaper articles, family documents, letters or scrapbooks that were handed down and, of course, the internet. Learning more about each ancestor and their interests, travels, skills, and achievements is fascinating and helps to connect their unique story to your own.
Ultimately, a genealogy project could take anywhere from a week to put together a simple Family Group Sheet, to six months or more, to build a complex family tree using an online family tree website like Ancestry.com or 23andme.com which uses DNA to discover your family connections. Considering that about 66% of Americans ages 65+ are active on the internet and, with internet access becoming a standard amenity at most retirement and senior living communities, there’s really no better time to start compiling your own family history.
For many families, research into their roots will uncover great surprises and can help to solidify their sense of identity and self-awareness. It can also be a fun challenge to see how many generations of your family tree you will be able to unearth. Regardless of a project’s scope, the end result will be the same: a better understanding and appreciation of your heritage and a real-life family story to pass on to your loved ones.
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Written by Denee Coleman