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Where's your family from? or how I got started in Genealogy

Do you know that kind of know it all kid we all had in class when we were growing up? The one that always had the right answers and sometimes corrected the teacher. Well that was me growing up. I was always able to remember those odds and ends pieces of information that the teachers would test you on. I was really bad back when I was in the seventh grade. I would get tests back with answers marked wrong, then go back to the teacher and prove that my answer was the correct one. I laugh about it now but I was probably my social studies teacher's worst nightmare. I know he didn't call on me if he didn't have to and I don't blame him. The funny part is that while I don't remember his name and he probably hated me, he had a major impact on my life.

One day in class he was talking about how America was this great melting pot. He asked a rather simple question,'Where is your family from?

Well of course I put up my hand just like I always did, sure that I had the right answer. As was usual he didn't call my name. Over the course of the next few minutes, I put down my hand and he missed the one opportunity to catch me not knowing the right answer.

See I grew up in a rather mutli-ethnic neighborhood in Michigan. It was a factory town with at least a half dozen auto factories nearby. It also had about 8 or 9 universities or colleges nearby including the University of Michigan. So when he asked that question other students were answering with places like France, England, Poland, Germany and Italy. I on the other hand would have answered the question with Kentucky. Not anywhere close to what he was looking for in an answer.

The problem for me is that it was a question to which I didn't know the answer. I hate not knowing the answer. It drives me crazy. So of course the first thing that I did was to run home and ask my parents the question. I mean, surely they should know the answer, right? Wrong. Neither of them could answer the question. In fact, my father couldn't even tell me the names of his grandmothers. I eventually asked the question to all my living grandparents. No one knew the correct answer. Although my maternal grandfather was able to give me a guess.

I was now faced with a problem, how do I answer that question.? Well, since I was living in Michigan and my family was from Kentucky, I assumed that I would need to go to Ky to find the records. I rather naively assumed that I could go down to the courthouse and find files of birth, marriage and death certificates. Each would provide me with some of the information that I needed and I would have to spend a day or two there to get my answers. I did say I was naive.

Since I couldn't convince my parents to take me to the courthouse to answer my question, I spent a lot of time with my relatives asking questions. They would tell me stories about themselves and I would write them down. I looked at old photos and wrote the names on the backs of them. I went so far as to draw up my own charts. I was making it up as I went and just ended up doing the right things.

I eventually moved to Kentucky with my parents and still didn't make to the courthouse. I did make it to the local library not to long after I moved there though. I had a life long interest in science and genetics. So I picked up some books thinking they were about genetics. Instead they were about genealogy. I devoured them. In no time at all I was connected into the genealogy community. I read everything I could get my hands on. I bought and read a copy of the The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy from cover to cover.

I was asked that question over 32 years ago. I haven't stopped trying to answer that question. Maybe in another 30 years I will be able to anwer it. I have learned alot about my family though and our place in the history of this country. I want to use this blog to share some of what I have learned. May be it will help others.

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Comment by Greg Settle on August 31, 2009 at 9:43am
I don't recall that question coming up in school. I have been on-and-off interested in genealogy all my life none-the-less. Have you had your DNA analyzed? I understand it will give you an idea of your greater family origins.
Comment by Jeanie DiLeonardo on August 30, 2009 at 10:07pm
I enjoyed your blog post, Sharon (maybe because I was that kid, too). I also remember getting that subject brought up in school, and running home to ask Mom for information. I wish I'd been as methodical back then as you.

Sounds like you grew up near where my Dad did - he's from Flint. And my Mom's mother's family was from Kentucky, so we have a few things in common.

Keep sharing!


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