Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why Genealogy?

For me it started with a conversation with some friends who were working on their family histories. It was amazing how far back they had traced some branches of their family trees. Some were traced back with documentation while other facts came from family stories.

Two of my aunts had begun work on a family tree several years before. When I got a copy, I guess I was a little disappointed. I think I was expecting a huge family tree with information about the family before them came to America. The family tree they had was pretty much just the family that they knew but it was a good starting point. They were also working on it before the WWW so it would have been hard to document much of anything. I don't know how people traced their family histories before the internet, especially if the trail led to the former Soviet countries.

As I've learned more about my ancestors, I've amazed the rest of the family with some of the facts I've discovered. They're probably a little disappointed that I killed off a few family stories along the way. Some of them are interested in my findings, mainly in the form a brief summary. Few care much for the documents...I'm a CPA so I like to see the physical records. Some I think listen to me just to humor me. That's fine. I'm doing this research for myself. I have no kids so I don't know who will care for my photo albums and binders when I'm gone. I don't know if my nieces will be interested. Hopefully the new cousins I've discovered in my journey will pass it down to their kids.

Of course there's the history lesson too. I've learned a lot about the Holocaust and the history of several regions of Eastern Europe. I probably knew some of it back in high school but a lot seems totally new to me. For example, I'm sure I learned about the 3 partitions of Poland in the 18th century. The Kingdom of Poland didn't exist from 1795 to 1918. After WWI when Poland did exist again as a separate country again it was much smaller than it's original size. There are several towns that my ancestors came from that used to be in Poland but are now in Ukraine or Belarus. There are Lithuanian records in the Polish archives because of cross-border administrative districts. When I'm looking for records, it's usually a good thing that they located in archives in Poland because Poland is many years ahead of the former Soviet countries in computerizing their archives. It's even better if the FHL, Family History Library operated by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) has microfilmed the records and they've been indexed by an organization such as JewishGen. That means I can just send a request to the FHL for copies of the original records.

Anyway, no genealogy is just a part of my life. It seems that whenever I find one piece of the puzzle, I realize that 10 more are missing. Unfortunately, some of the pieces will never be discovered because the records didn't survive. There will also always be those unidientified photos we all have in our albums. They look familiar but nobody knows who they are.

More to follow...

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