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Discovering our roots

The United States is a nation of immigrants who came from many lands, many races and many religions. With the exception of people who descend from Native Americans, others are the children, grandchildren and beyond of those brave souls who, for their own reasons, left their country of birth and traveled to a new land, a new home and a new beginning.
Growing up, I was very aware from an early age that my grandparents all were the children of immigrants from various countries. It wasn't until I was an adult that I questioned why my father referred to his mother as “Mum,” instead of the American “Mom.” To me, it was quite normal to grow up with great aunts, uncles and a grandfather who still held onto their Italian accents and would occasionally revert back to Italian. It was normal for me to hear my grandmother, whose family came from the region of Russia, Poland and Germany that used to be known as Prussia, mumble to herself in German. Christmas would not have been the same in the home that I grew up in if my mother hadn't prepared my great-grandmother's recipe for Scottish shortbread that she brought to America with her. New Year's Day brought pork, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, a German tradition for good luck.
Even though family stories were shared, over the years those memories had begun to dim. Years ago, in preparation for a family reunion just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, several of my cousins and myself began to put together a family tree with bits and pieces of family lore. The more I searched, the more interested I became in who these people really were. I found myself at a website, www.familysearch.org, that was instrumental in my quest to find out who my family was and exactly where they came from. The information provided on this website is available due to the extensive genealogy and research that members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, have reviewed and submitted. Members of the church have gone into remote areas, making copies of old church records in their quest to share this information with the world.
The recent television series, “Who Do You Think You Are?” has generated a renewed interest in my search to find as many family members as possible. For those people who are ready to jump in and start their family search, www.ancestry.com is a good website that provides thousands of records that can be easily searched from the comfort of your home. There is a fee to access ancestry.com's records, but for those people who are on a mission to find out the names of their great-grandparents and beyond, it is worth the price. If your family spent any time in Scotland, the Scottish government kept impeccable records and they can be accessed through the Internet. They can be found at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. There is a fee to view the records, and payment can be made online for immediate search results. For those people who are fortunate to have access to old family Bibles and records, your search will be far easier than those who are searching, often blindly, through a maze of information while attempting to find a clue that will lead to their ancestors.
At times, the search for family members is slow and tedious. Names were often misspelled, as census workers were not always accurate. It's often like a puzzle in that finding one small piece of information leads to more. Years ago, I was able to find the marriage certificate of my great-grandmother, Agnes McDermott, who married a man by the name of Thomas Nelis, my great-grandfather. Because of that find, I immediately found out the names of the parents of Agnes and Thomas, my four great-great grandparents. I discovered that my great-grandmother could not write, as she signed her marriage certificate with an “x.” My great-grandfather was a coal miner, as was his father. I was able to order an extract of the marriage certificate. When it arrived in the mail, I can't begin to describe how happy I was to hold something tangible in my hands that was symbolic of a major event in the life of my family, my people. Even though they had been gone for many years, for a brief moment, I had found them.
I am not alone in my search. Fran Hampton, of Mountain City, recently shared that she, too, has an interest in finding out who her family is. “I have a whole box of stuff at home,” Hampton said. Her mother was raised in Johnson County, and Fran and her family would travel from their home in Pennsylvania to visit family in Mountain City.
“My dream was always to live in Johnson County,” Hampton mused, and she ended up marrying a man from the county. Hampton shared family stories that she had uncovered along the way through research at the local library and cemetery records. Because of an obituary that had been written for Hampton's grandmother, Hampton's mother was not only able to find her mother's grave in Florida, but she was introduced to a woman who had held onto a handkerchief that once belonged to her mother. For people who have nothing that belonged to a loved one, that gift was priceless.
Finding your ancestors, regardless if they lived in the United States or other countries, takes some dedication and perseverance. With the help of online websites, the search has been made easier and records are now available to you at the click of a mouse. For those of us who want to know who we are and where we came from, researching your family tree gives priceless information. It's a tie between you and them, and finding that connection is an achievement you will always treasure.