I truly regret not making the most of a precious opportunity. I had a family member who was our historian. She knew the family lineage, the locations from where family members emigrated, funny stories and also the family dirt (little-talked-about family secrets). She also had the largest collection of family photos — many black-and-white; most were unmarked as to who is pictured.

I always enjoyed being with her and listening to her talk about our family, her generation and those prior.

When she passed away, much of our family’s history passed with her. I wished I had transcribed her words and recorded her voice. I wished we had marked all those photos with names and years.

We live busy lives, and, for some reason or other, we think the special people in our lives will always be there. Thus, we don’t take time to have meaningful conversations that will reward us with more permanent memories of our loved ones.

Prior generations have an ability that is second nature: remembering and reiterating family history. Before you lose your family historian and/or before he or she suffers memory loss due to aging, record what may have been taken for granted. Then share with family the stories and the wisdom you’ve collected.

As time moves forward and as younger generations move into adulthood, the history you preserve will be treasured. 

Family forensics

Have you ever wanted to be a private detective? Once you begin transcribing stories and lineage, curiosity about particular individuals or gaps in time may leave you yearning for missing details.

Genealogy is a popular pursuit that can become addictive in a good way. It’s intellectually stimulating, much like unraveling a good mystery. There’s an abundance of online information, so your detective work can be carried out wherever there’s Internet access.

Seattle is rich with repositories of information. At the central branch of the Seattle Public Library, you’ll find collections of genealogy information on the ninth floor. Well-informed librarians are ready to assist. For helpful pointers, pick up their flyer “Genealogy: The Search for Your Family’s History.”

The library’s genealogical collections are regional to the eastern, upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest sections of the United States and French-speaking Canada.

If you’re a member of the Seattle library system, you’ll have Internet access to a variety of databases. Some databases, like Ancestry.com (Census, vital and military records) and American Ancestors (New England’s Register), are only accessible while in the library; others can be accessed from home.

The Fiske Genealogical Foundation (www.fiskelibrary.org) is housed in the Pioneer Building in Seattle’s Madison Park neighborhood. Volunteers will help you sift through info from all parts of the United States.

The Seattle Genealogical Society (www.seattlegenealogicalsociety.org) is on Sand Point Way Northeast in Northeast Seattle and offers classes and workshops. Across the street is the Pacific Alaska Region of the National Archives (www.archives.gov/seattle). You can examine the many historical documents housed there (land deeds, court documents, etc.).

The Church of Latter-Day Saints is well known for its Salt Lake City archives (www.familysearch.org). For records not accessible online, you can ask local branches of the church to borrow microfilm from the central archives. The films can then be viewed at one of the church’s local Family History Libraries.

Many Internet databases are subscription-only. Examples are Fold3 (a database of original U.S. military records), Genealogy Bank and Newspapers.com — the latter two are digital archives of historic newspapers.

Two examples of free web-based databases are Find A Grave and Cyndi’s List. Find A Grave lists locations for 100 million gravesites; Cyndi’s List cross-references and links many online genealogical resources.

Much information can be found through simple Internet searches; Mocavo is a search tool specifically for genealogical research.

For the future

I encourage you to preserve your family history for future generations. If I’ve inspired you to take it to the next level, I wish you happy hunting in the historical archives.

I thank Larry Pike for the resources sited in this article. Larry recently retired from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. He now has the time to take what was a serious hobby, genealogy, and make it a full-time avocation.

MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to marla@andelcare.com.