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Style Magazine

The Family Tree

Nov 23, 2009 10:00AM ● By Wendy Sipple

Do you remember being mesmerized by your grandmother’s stories of life in the “old days?”

Did you ever wonder how or why your ancestors first came to America? Taking an interest in your descendants is a meaningful way to preserve your family history. Unfortunately, unless purposefully captured, much of a family’s rich traditions and heritage passes with each generation.

The Importance of Genealogy

Genealogy isn’t simply connecting the dots between distant relatives, the process can be a fascinating look at where and how family members lived, your kinship’s associated surnames, and even potential links to nobility. As an added bonus, when children help delve into family histories, it can result in valuable connections to the historical people, places and events they study in class every day.

Getting Started on a Family Tree

It’s easier than you may think to become your family’s self-appointed historian. With extensive resources and online databases, the branches of your family tree can be easily identified and documented.

Shannon Terwedo, a professional genealogist and founder of ProGEN, a genealogy consulting company in Shingle Springs, says her interest in genealogy was triggered by the death of her last grandparent. “My grandmother died in 1995, and I realized I really didn’t know much about my family heritage other than what had been passed down orally,” she explains. After compiling her own family history, Terwedo became hooked on the study of genealogy. She went on to complete formal professional training and is currently undergoing the lengthy process of certification.

To assemble a family history, Terwedo recommends first filling out a pedigree chart, a structured listing of direct ancestors. “Start with yourself and work backwards, first interviewing your parents and then everyone still alive in your family,” she explains. But Terwedo cautions clients not to limit research to just immediate family. “I definitely encourage using those frequent flyer miles to go meet with extended family members. There are many things those folks can recall and often times they sit on treasure troves of documents and unlabeled photographs that only they can describe.”

After conducting personal interviews, the next step is to fill in facts from public records and related documents such as birth, death and marriage records, and newspaper accounts. Terwedo says local libraries are fantastic resources for genealogical material. Additionally, records and photos can be accessed in Rocklin, Auburn and Placerville at Family History Centers, branches of the largest genealogical library in the world, and at The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is operated by the LDS Church.

When to Call in an Expert

Modern-day technology and the resources mentioned below provide much of the information needed to develop a standard family tree. As a professional genealogist, Terwedo says she usually gets a call when the family historian gets stuck. She says, “They have either become serious about identifying a lineage society, or they’ve hit a brick wall and really need someone with expertise to consult with or take over the research for them.”

As we approach the holiday season, you might take the opportunity to sit down with an older relative and talk about your family’s history. Your genuine interest in their precious memories may be the most meaningful gift you can give to your entire family.