Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Our subject this week is an area of study that
interests millions of people -- genealogy, researching family history.
People study their family history for different reasons. For some, genealogy
is important to their religion. This is especially true for Mormons.
Genealogy is also important for membership in some historical or cultural
organizations. These include the General Society of Mayflower Descendents and
the Daughters of the American Revolution. Candidates for membership may be asked
for evidence about when their families came to America.
Other people who get involved in genealogy may want to confirm stories they
heard about a family member. Or they may just want to learn more about the
strange-looking people in old family pictures.
Some people say their interest in genealogy came from watching an eight-part
series on television called "Roots." "Roots" was first broadcast in 1977. It was
It was based on a book by the writer Alex Haley. He wanted to find the
history of his family. He described how the story began long ago in Africa, as
slave traders captured one of his ancestors and brought him to America.
After watching "Roots," many Americans wanted to investigate their own roots.
In some cases, what they found surprised them.
For example, one man knew that a member of his family had crossed the United
States with members of the Mormon Church in the 1800s. His ancestor was a
builder and did many jobs for the group.
The early Mormon Church permitted men to marry more than one woman. A
genealogy search showed that the builder was, in fact, married to seven women
and had at least 30 children.
So how exactly does someone start a genealogical investigation? Experts say
you should start with yourself. Write down your own history, then if possible
work back to your parents and grandparents.
One idea is to ask your parents what they can remember about their parents or
grandparents. Find out all you can about your ancestors. Where did they live?
What kind of work did they do?
Many people use sound or video recorders as they talk to family members. That
way they create a permanent record of family memories.
And, like any good investigator, do the best you can to separate facts from
stories that may or may not be true.
You can often find a lot of information in family pictures, letters and other
documents. Some of these things may be hidden inside old books.
Resources on local history may also provide useful information. Large
libraries may have hundreds of helpful books.
In the United States, several groups have large collections of genealogical
materials. These include the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the
Family History Library of the Mormon Church. These collections are open to the
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has about two thousand
visitors each day. The library has information from almost every area of the
world. Most records are from the years fifteen fifty through nineteen twenty.
Some people travel to Utah to use the library. But the Mormon Church has
established more than four thousand Family History Centers around the world.
The church also has a Web site to help people look for information about
their family history. The address is familysearch.com.
Records kept by religious groups are among the most dependable for family
research projects. Often the most helpful documents are records of marriages and
Death records, for example, tell where the person lived. They also list the
names of the person's parents. And they list the cause of death.
Governments usually keep official copies of birth, marriage and death
You should also examine other records -- you never know what you might find.
Useful information might be found in local court and tax records. And local
governments may have copies of wills. These statements of final wishes often
contain details about a person's life and possessions.
Governments often have many helpful records for genealogists. The United
States government, for example, has done population studies every ten years
since the end of the seventeen hundreds.
Early census records had few details. They gave the name of the head of the
family. They listed the number of people in the family. Recent census records
provide more information. They show the value of a family's property. They also
tell where a person's parents were born.
For privacy reasons, Census Bureau information on individuals is not made
public until after seventy-two years.
Copies of old census records are kept on microfilm at centers around the
country. More information about Census Bureau records can be found at
One of the most important places for genealogy researchers is the National
Archives in Washington, D.C. The National Archives keeps not only census records
but also records on men and women who served in the armed forces. Military
records give details of the person's position and dates of service. These
records can show if an ancestor fought in any wars.
The National Archives also has records of early settlers who received land
from the government. And it has lists of immigrants who arrived in America by
ship. More information about the National Archives can be found on the Internet
at nara -- n-a-r-a -- dot g-o-v (nara.gov).
Passenger records for immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in New York can
be searched online at ellisisland dot o-r-g (ellisisland.org). That site is
operated by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.
Today, many people use the Internet as they research their family history.
There are thousands of Web sites related to genealogy. These can guide people to
historical records. They can also provide information about how to write down
your family's history. Some people put all of the information and pictures they
collect into nicely designed books and have copies made for family members.
Beginning genealogists often believe they can do all of their research on the
Internet. But experience has shown that people are often able to gather only a
small amount of useful or correct information. Also keep in mind that Web sites
may be operated by businesses and groups that are trying to sell products and
Finding your family roots is not always easy. But continuing to search can
sometimes produce results.
For example, there was a man who knew that part of his family had lived in
the same area of Pennsylvania for almost two centuries. He knew the names of
many of his ancestors, but nothing more. He searched for additional information
but could not find any.
Then the man bought a copy of an old map of the area. The map had been
produced more than one hundred years earlier. Many burial grounds at that time
were near churches. During a trip to the area, the man used the map to find
these old burial grounds.
The information he found on burial markers answered some of his questions
about his ancestors. Yet the answers raised several new questions. This often
happens in genealogy.
People who seek their roots through genealogy say the search is a lot of
work, but also a lot of fun. Many people say it also helps them learn more about
history. Their search not only brings history to life by making it more
personal. It also gives them a better understanding of their family's place in
history. And it gives them a better understanding of themselves.
Our program was written by George Grow and produced by Caty Weaver. You can
download transcripts of our programs, and find links to the Web sites we listed,
at www.unsv.com. I'm Steve Ember.
I'm Shirley Griffith. We hope you can listen again next week for THIS IS
AMERICA in VOA Special English.
genealogy : the
study or investigation of ancestry and family histories（家谱学）