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October Is Family History Month: Time to Organize and Share Your Genealogy

Jose Pacheco and Minnie Ventura, ca 1930, my great uncle and great aunt

Jose Pacheco and Minnie Ventura, ca 1930, my great uncle and great aunt

A Whole Month For Genealogy

Did you know that October is Family History Month in the United States? Each October, the President of the United States signs a special proclamation in hopes to inspire us to delve into our family history.

This is the time to explore your heritage, honor your ancestors, and make sure your family stories get passed down. Haven't started your family tree? This is a good time to get started!

You know, Family History Month isn't just for genealogists! It's a time for all of us to reflect on our heritage, reconnect with our ancestors, and remember that we wouldn't be here if it weren't for them.

Not sure how to honor your ancestors this month? I've included some ideas that are perfect for adults and children. You can give them a try or find your own special way to explore your heritage. Your ancestors will be happy that you did.

Why Bother?

They're all dead, right?

Is it really all that important to go searching for dead ancestors? I mean, we've got busy enough lives. Got to get the kids to school, go to work, get home for soccer practice, get dinner on the we really need a hobby?

I believe it's important that we remember our ancestors and their stories. It gives us a sense of who we are and where we've come from. You cannot appreciate what you have if you have no sense of what others before you did to make this future possible.

Learning about your heritage puts you in touch with the past. You realize that the recipes, phrases, and your rituals that are a part of your every day life have roots that run from your grandparents and your great grandparents to you.

Researching your family tree gives you a personal connection to history. When you studied history in school it was a collection of facts. But, how cool would it be to learn that one of your ancestors fought in the Civil War, that your grandmother came through Ellis Island, that a famine caused your great great grandparents to leave their homeland? Once you realize you had people "there", it makes history come alive.

Finally, it is important that we share our roots with the next generation. It gives us all a sense of being connection to the community, to our country, and to the world. Your children will appreciate your efforts some day.

Share and Share Some More

The main reason we lose our family history is because people keep things to themselves. It's so important to pass items down, but equally important to share stories and memories.

Share what you know with others. This could be in the form of blogging about your ancestry, putting together a history of your family for your relatives, uploading your genealogy information to one of the many genealogy websites, sharing on Facebook, Google+, or another social network, and so on. If you have many cousins online, consider creating a private family group where everyone can talk about their ancestors. Sharing is the one way to make sure your relatives are not forgotten.

A family tombstone, St. Mary's Cemetery, Oakland, CA

A family tombstone, St. Mary's Cemetery, Oakland, CA

How Can You Honor Your Ancestors This Month?

There are many ways that you can honor your ancestors this month. Here are some ideas to get your started:

  • Have an ancestor inspired dinner. Did you grandparents have a meal they served on Sundays? Did your Mom have a specialty? Is there a certain dish known in the country that your ancestors were from? Serve it up and experience the tastes and smells of the foods that your ancestors enjoyed.
  • Is there something that reminds you of a relative? For instance, did your Grandma love to garden? If so, then spend an afternoon in your garden and remember how your Grandma loved being in hers. Perhaps your Dad enjoyed stamp collecting. Get out the old stamp albums or look up philately online. The possibilities for connecting with your ancestors are endless when we experience the things they enjoyed.
  • Create a migration map and chart your ancestors' migratory trails. You can find historic maps online or use a modern map. Note where they left from and when. Then draw a line to where they ended up and note that too. It's interesting to review how far our relatives traveled. Some of these journeys were long and difficult and some done in multiple stages.
  • Set aside an afternoon to visit with an elderly relative. This could be in person or over the phone if the distance is too great.
  • Type up the family stories that you remember and make a copy for family members.
  • Visit the cemetery and take photographs of the tombstones. Leave behind some flowers to mark your visit.
  • Visit a place that was important to your relatives. This could be a church, school, a battlefield...It might be a place that played an important part in the events of their lives. For instance, I know that my relatives were in the refugee camp at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. I might make a trip there to get a feel for what it might have been like for them to live in tents in the park.
  • If you have family heirlooms (jewelry, clocks, figurines, etc.) that were passed down from one generation to another, take a few moments to write down the history behind the item.
  • Start a scrapbook album based on your family history, a person in your tree, or an event that affected their lives.

Get into Scrapbooking!

Are you into scrapbooking? It's one neat way to let your creativity have free reign and to make a smashing display of your ancestry. You can start with a blank scrapbook and design each page your way.

There are also kits specifically designed for genealogical purposes. These come with templates specifically for family tree data, photographs, and heirlooms.

My great great uncle in a studio photo, ca 1915

My great great uncle in a studio photo, ca 1915

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Keeping Memories Alive

We all have ways we connect with our ancestry. It may be making Grandma's famous recipe, displaying a wood carving that an Uncle made, remember songs you sang together, or practicing a ritual that was familiar to your Grandparents. We do these things all year long, not just in October.

Sharing photographs is one way we keep our ancestor's memory alive. Once a photograph is scanned it can be saved in multiple locations. If something happens to lose the original, no problem! You've got copies.

You can email photographs to cousins. You can post them on social networks so family members can see them and comment on them. You can even set up an online photo.

If we don't share photographs, we may miss out on important opportunities to learn more about the people in them.

Image courtesy of stydrobrug120 at

Image courtesy of stydrobrug120 at

Getting Kids Involved in Family History

It is important to pass on family history to our children. It gives them a sense of who they are and where they've come from. It ensures that your family history will not be lost.

These are some projects to get your kids involved during Family History Month:

1. Do you know where your ancestors lived? Have your kids use GoogleMaps to see if they can locate a photograph of their ancestors houses. Then search to see if there are any details about the construction of the houses.

2. Buy a special family tree book for children. They make them especially for children to fill in the blanks, draw pictures, and add photographs.

3. Play the photograph game. Make copies of your family photographs (don't use the originals!). Write a couple of details on the back on the photograph about the person. Put the photographs in a stack and have each child try to guess who the person is and tell something about them.

4. Pull out the family heirlooms, a baby book, documents, and beloved items. Tell your child who the item belonged to and why it is special. Special does not mean it has monetary value. I found my grandfather's pilot flight log. I didn't even know that he knew how to fly a plane!

5. Have the kids draw pictures of people in their family tree or places that are important to your history.

A Family Journal

It's so important to record your family details. Even if you aren't all that interested, your children and grandchildren will be.

A journal is the perfect place to make notations about your family, to record stories, and to share photographs. You can start with a blank journal so that you can decided on the categories. You can also but a journal specifically designed to record family tree data. These books ask various questions or have blanks to fill in. The prompts are helpful in helping you remember things.

Whatever you decide to do, write it down! The sooner the better!

Family History Month

My grandma with my Mom, 1937

My grandma with my Mom, 1937

New to Genealogy?

Here's how to start

Genealogy can be intimidating as all get up. I remember when I used to host genealogy chat on the web years ago. People came in bursting with energy and ready to find their ancestors. Many of them left deflated because they didn't realize genealogy took time and work. Advertisements may lead you to believe that it's all out there just waiting for you to click a button. Unless you are related to the Queen of England or someone as famous, it isn't going to be that easy.

But it can be done! So, don't get too discouraged before you get going. The way to start your family tree research is to work from the known to the unknown. You'll need 3 things: a pedigree chart, a family group sheet (or several depending on how much you already know), and a pencil with a really good eraser.

Take your pedigree chart and fill in everything you already know. Do the same with the family group sheet. Feels good to fill in some spaces, doesn't it? You aren't done though. You think you know these things, but now you have to prove it.

So, go around the house and pull out the birth, death, and marriage records. Got any baptismal records? Get those too. Look for any document that might have parents' names, birth dates and places, and so forth. A family Bible may also have this information written in it.

Now compare those documents to what you filled in on your charts. Did you have to erase anything? Were you able to add new information? I bet once you're done you will know more about your family than you thought you knew!

Once you have identified what you know, you are ready to research. You see all those empty spots on your pedigree chart? Those are spaces you need to fill in. Pick an ancestor, then decide what information you want to learn about this person, then figure out how to find that information.

I never said genealogy was easy, but it's not impossible either! You just have to work at it. And, then you will find that it is one of the most rewarding hobbies you've ever taken on.

If you would like to read more about family tree research, read How to Start My Family Tree by

© 2011 Melody Lassalle

Thanks for visiting!

Melody Lassalle (author) from California on October 22, 2014:

Thanks for your comment, Ann! It's a bit redundant in my house, too. I just recently conversed with someone who thought the best way to do you tree is to pay someone to do it for you. My thought "No way!" You described it so well. It's the thrill of finding the pieces and putting the person or family together that is the fun part.

How neat to get that letter! It's not often we get those kinds of insights and memories about our relatives.

Ann Hinds from So Cal on October 22, 2014:

Didn't know that October was Family History Month but then at our house, every month is Family History Month. Each day there is a chance for a new discovery or a person from the past who shows up with bits and pieces that keeps me going. I have had a wonderful month when a stranger wrote to me after 51 years to tell me about my uncle who died long ago.

Melody Lassalle (author) from California on October 08, 2014:

ajgodinho, Genealogy is a passion of mine and I'm glad that the article inspired you. It's good to take time to reflect on our ancestor. Thank you for your comment!

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on October 07, 2014:

Reading through this hub definitely got me excited about genealogy. I could feel your passion as I read through this well-written article on honouring our ancestors. In fact, as I read through this article, it made me pause and think about many of my ancestors whom I still love dearly. Thanks for the inspiration...stay blessed!

Melody Lassalle (author) from California on October 06, 2014:

jbtanabe, Isn't that the truth! I have what I consider "new" immigrant ancestors, meaning that the oldest line I have in the US is 1849, with most of my ancestors coming after the 1880s (my Dad's father didn't get here until 1907). So, I don't have to look far back to find my immigrant ancestors. When I think of how many migrations had to take place just I could be born here on the West Coast, it's really awe inspiring. I am sure others feel the same way.

Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on October 06, 2014:

This is really nice. I really should do something to honor my ancestors, after all I wouldn't be here at all without them!

Melody Lassalle (author) from California on October 05, 2014:

Diane, That sounds like an excellent project to start this month. I know my genealogy stuff could sure use some organization.

Diane Cass from New York on October 04, 2014:

I need to organize all my old family photos and trinkets. That would be a good project this month. Thanks for the inspiration.

JoshK47 on October 20, 2011:

Wonderful lens - you learn tons of fascinating stuff when you delve into your family's history!

Coreena Jolene on October 11, 2011:

Great lens! I am very active on my search for dead relatives.

Melody Lassalle (author) from California on October 02, 2011:

@GramaBarb: Thanks so much! I am glad you enjoyed the lens.

GramaBarb from Vancouver on October 02, 2011:

I am so happy I found your lens on my Daily News under 'stories'

Giving you some Angel dust :) for a job well done!

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