Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Genealogy Traces Roots

This morning, Tuesday, April 20, 2010, WITF-FM's Radio SmartTalk focused on genealogy -- the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history -- in an episode entitled Family Trees and Genealogy:

Living in the early 21st century has its perks – among them, access to information like never before. DNA testing can help you trace your roots. Social networking sites can help you reconnect with relatives. A lot of folks are taking advantage of these and other tools to develop a family tree.

We welcome your questions about genealogy for Jonathan Stayer and Aaron McWilliams, archivists with the Pennsylvania State Archives. They'll offer some insights into how to research your family's history, track down records, and get it all organized.

We'll also talk with a couple who have just completed an extensive family tree – Radio Smart Talk host Craig Cohen's parents, Ed and Sheilah Cohen. They've compiled the tree, records, biographies, and assorted family anecdotes. They'll share some of what they turned up – including some stories and connections to history, and some of the sleuthing they did to fill in some missing pieces of their family's past.
The hour's discussion , which can be heard via the Internet using a multimedia computer, was a mixture of "how to" steps in a genealogical study using Pennsylvania's extensive and available resources, which are summarized online, and also "done that, been there" experiences and emotions shared by the host's parents, who researched their Russian ancestry into a printed book.

I listened with interest from two points of view.

First, as a lawyer, I know that, where an intestacy occurs upon a death or where a Last Will makes class bequests or invokes substitution provisions, a "family tree" will determine what interests become distributable to living heirs. But such investigations involve just a few generations. That exercise is more like a study of
kinship to pass possessions or wealth.

Second, as a young man nearly forty years ago, my father presented me with a Hendershot genealogy, researched by one of my distant relatives, Alfred E. Hendershot, of Ohio. He prepared a
Genealogy of the Hendershot Family in America (1961), spanning from my generation back to the immigration of an ancestor from Germany in the early 1700's (as I recall). I found it referenced online, along with a database at ancestry.com. That book traced my deep roots.

That sense of personal history -- of connection to people who lived in the past, and of our legacy of their hopes and beliefs -- is important.

I urge listening to that session.