In four years of blogging, I don't think I've ever talked about one of my favorite hobbies—family history or genealogy. That may be because it's an on-again, off-again thing with me. I work very hard on it for a couple of years, reach a dead-end, and put it away again for a while.
I recently got involved again when my husband's cousin contacted me about their parents' trees. I reactivated my account at Ancestry.com and, just like that, I got pulled back in.
I thought I'd write about this subject now that it's census time. I hope you're all returning yours promptly. After hearing about the many objections to the census I was expecting a lot of really intrusive questions but it literally took me three minutes to fill out. Compared to some of the past censuses where they wanted to know how much land you owned, how much money you had, where your parents were born, etc., they asked very little this time around.
In case you don't know, census records are released to the public 70 years after the information is collected (the waiting period is to protect the information on living persons) so they can be invaluable for genealogy purposes. Right now the most recent one you can research is 1930 and 1940 is due to be released in April 2010. A huge deal if you've traced your family to 1930 and want to move forward.
I can't tell you how much information I've gathered from past censuses. I know that my cousins have Native-American blood because my mother's brother married a woman whose grandmother was Cherokee. I know that my husband's maternal grandfather was a butcher in Kentwood, Louisiana in 1920. I know that my grandmother's family in Alabama had children named Daisy and Beulah. I've found birth dates, immigration dates, occupations, children I didn't know about, whether people lived on farms and owned or rented their houses. I've found widowed grandparents that moved in with children after their spouses died. All useful clues.
My Moir ancestors came here from Scotland in 1841, Bittenbenders from Germany in 1733, Kelly's, O'Malleys, and Harrisons from Ireland during the Potato Famine. My husband has Cottones from Sicily in the early 1900s and McCaffreys and Kellys from Ireland in the late 1800s. It's really fascinating.
I've been working on my tree since 1980-something so I've been able to find out a lot of information. If it's something you want to try, start simply with your parents (or grandparents if they're still alive). Find out names and dates of siblings and any information they can remember. You never know what information will be useful in the future.
And you might be interested in watching the new genealogy-themed show on NBC called Who Do You Think You Are? The first episode traced Sarah Jessica Parker's tree back to the gold rush and Salem witch trials; the second was Emmitt Smith's journey from Burnt Corn, Alabama back to Benin in Africa. That's not to say that you'll find someone famous or important in your tree, but you never know—it could happen!