It is that time of year when we connect and visit with our relatives to celebrate the holiday season: family dinners, gift giving, phone calls, holiday cards, and road trips.
Do you ever wonder what your ancestors’ family dinners were like? Who attended, who they celebrated with or received cards from, what decorations did they put up, what dishes were used? I like to look at the small details in old photos to see if I can recognize anything that might have been passed down.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 was to get in contact with distant family members. Most of my grandparents, great-aunts and uncles are gone and I am still on the quest to find family photos and stories. I was hopeful that by connecting with relatives I would find more information.
So with two months to spare in 2012, I sent several letters to people I am distantly related to. I found them in census records and obituaries. Many obituaries list survivors and often the city where they reside.
I wrote each a letter, included a family tree and asked if they had stories or photos to share. I included a little information about myself and my contact information.
To my surprise, they all responded.
Within the week I was on the phone talking with my grandfathers’ cousin in Illinois, now in his 80s. We had a wonderful chat. He referred to my great-grandmother as Cindy, which I had never heard before, her name was Lucinda. He had visited my grandparents in the 1950s and met my father when he was a boy. He confirmed family stories I had heard and told me some things I hadn’t. He also sent me photos of my great-great grandmother; I had no photos of her otherwise.
What turned out to be even more enjoyable was connecting with a relative who wanted to get to know me. I wasn’t expecting that. I set out to find more family tree information and I found more family. Some of the people in my tree are just names to me but to him they were close relatives he knew all his life.
It is very likely people listed on the 1930 and 1940 census are still around today. Those individuals are part of the greatest generation; a group of people who have lived though America’s best and worst times. They have stories to share and may have answers to questions you might have about your own family. At the very least making a family connection can make you feel more connected to relatives you were never able to know or ones you didn’t know you had. They might be wondering about you too.
DMPL Online Resources:
A-Z Database – Search for people by address or phone number
Obituaries – Des Moines Register Obituary Index
Census Records – Heritage Quest – 1930 and 1940 census available
Quillen, W. Daniel. Mastering Online Genealogy. Cold Spring Press, 2011.
Quillen, W. Daniel. Mastering Census & Military Records. Cold Spring Press, 2011.
Elliot, Noel Montgomery. Finding Anyone, Anywhere, Anywhen. Firefly Books, 2009.
Who Do You Think You Are? Created by Alex Graham, Produced by Shed Media US. Acron Media, 2011. DVD. (Seasons 1 & 2 available)