There's no place like home for starting your family history research. Here's how to use what you find around the house — letters, photos, scrapbooks and souvenirs — to unlock the mysteries of your past.
Do you become green with envy when friends talk about all the wonderful artifacts, heirlooms and family papers they have lying around their homes? You're not alone. My family didn't keep anything. They moved frequently and purged unnecessary clutter — including things a genealogist would treasure. How I'd love to have that Hershey candy bar wrapper my father wrote a love note on to my mother when they were teens. Or the original Singer sewing machine that sat in my grandmother's bedroom. Or cousin Henry's diary that was left to gather dust in my great-aunt's attic. Or the tea set my great-grandmother brought with her when she immigrated to America.
I'm out of luck, but you may have family history treasures right under your roof. Sometimes, it's the clues in an old, tucked-away letter, an inscription on a pewter plate or a date on a certificate of citizenship that will be the key to opening the genealogical gates. Even if, like me, you discover that your genealogical treasure chest doesn't contain family jewels, there's still hope of recovering some of the lost gems.
You've probably read the advice dozens of times, including in the pages of this very magazine: Start with “home sources.” But what does that really mean? It's simple: After writing down what you know about your family history from your own personal knowledge, the next step is to look for things around your home that may fill in some blanks on your charts. Remember: the rule of genealogical research is to start with yourself (the known) and work backward in time to your parents, grandparents and so on (the unknown). If you haven't done so, use charts and forms like those you can download free at <www.familytreemagazine.com/freeforms> and begin filling in the data you know.