It’s November, and the smell of turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce is already floating in the air. Thanksgiving is a time when friends and family come together to celebrate one another. Some families might go around the table and share what they’re thankful for or wake up early in the morning for the classic Turkey Trot fun run; either way, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and spend time with loved ones.
If you’re looking to celebrate Thanksgiving in a different way this year, or digging into your history has been on the to-do list, but you’ve never gotten to it, here are some reasons why learning about your heritage is important and how to get started.
Where to Start
There are several ways to begin digging into your family’s history, but the best way to start is by talking to relatives and gathering documents or memorabilia. By sitting down and chatting with your relatives (especially the older ones), you can learn about stories and traditions and get a head start on the family tree. They also might be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to finding photographs, letters, certificates, and other related memorabilia.
This begins the process of tracking your family history, and this can be one of the most fun steps. Hearing stories about great-grandparents can be a fun and engaging Thanksgiving dinner discussion. Even the little ones in the family will enjoy “scavenging” through boxes of special things.
Another step to take is to begin creating a family tree. There are genealogy software and online tools to make this process easier, like Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, or FamilySearch. A good tip to remember is to begin with what you know and gradually work backward, adding more generations as you uncover information.
Skipping the Scavenging
Speaking to family members or collaborating on a family tree can make great memories, but it can feel overwhelming or take a lot of effort. If you want to skip a few steps, try a DNA test to get faster results without the work and hustle.
DNA testing can be a powerful tool for individuals looking to dig deeper into their family history and heritage. DNA testing has several benefits, like finding out your ethnicity and geographic origins, connecting with distant relatives, confirming the paper trail, and even learning more about your health and family genetics.
“Genetic ancestry is based upon a person’s DNA, which can be traced back to the genetic sequences of their ancestors,” states the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “So, if a person’s ancestry report says they are 34% East Asian, then that means that person has genetic DNA most similar to the population of the people living in that geographic location now.”
There are several DNA testing companies like Choice DNA and Fastest Labs, as well as Validity Genetics, that even offer a DNA test for your pup, so you can learn more about their breed, health, and canine ancestry and see their relatives.
While on your journey to learn more about your heritage, you might connect with a relative you didn’t know you had. When others with similar DNA have taken the same test and opted to share their results, you can potentially identify cousins, second cousins, and more, which can lead to new family connections and discoveries.
My grandfather has quite a few wild and intriguing family stories, especially about the history behind my family’s last name. He often shares two contrasting narratives, both shrouded in mystery and intrigue. In one version of the story, our ancestors changed the family name when they immigrated to the United States because they wanted to assimilate into their new homeland and wanted to avoid potential prejudice by having a Jewish last name, which, at the time, was Cohen. In a more daring twist to the family lore, my grandfather spins the tale of a bold bank robber who, in a bid to evade the relentless pursuit of the police, cleverly changed his name.
Whether rooted in fact or fiction, these stories have added a layer of mystique to our family’s history. By using DNA Testing, it can help confirm or challenge the paper trail and word-of-mouth that has been passed down through the generations. Nonetheless, thrilling family tales should continue to be passed down because they’re great conversation starters and exciting tales.
Another benefit if you go down the DNA testing route is some places can offer health-related information based on your genetic DNA. This can help your family learn valuable information about potential genetic health risks that might be running in the family.
Here are some resources that can help you on your journey – the Colorado Genealogical Society, local libraries (Denver Public Library), local historical societies, and cemetery records (websites like FindAGrave or BillionGraves).