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Genealogy

By George GrowMillions of Americans are interested in the history of their families. It is an area of study called genealogy. I'm Sarah Long.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Genealogy is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Americans study family history or genealogy for several reasons. For some, genealogy is linked closely to religious faith. This is especially true in the Mormon religion.

Genealogy also is linked to membership in some cultural groups or historical societies. These include the General Society of Mayflower Descendents and the Colonial Dames of America. Candidates for membership in these organizations may be asked for evidence that their families came to America at the right historical time.

Other people 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.An American television program broadcast in the Nineteen-Seventies increased interest in American genealogy. It was called "Roots."It was one of the most popular programs ever broadcast in the United States."Roots" told the story of the family of African American writer Alex Haley. The story began in Africa a few hundred years ago. Slave traders captured one of Mr. Haley's ancestors and brought him to America. The story told how the family developed after that.

After watching the program, many Americans had a desire to investigate their own roots. Some of the information they uncovered was unexpected.For example, one man learned that a member of his family had crossed the United States with members of the Mormon Church in the Eighteen-Hundreds. His ancestor was a builder and did many jobs for the group.

The early Mormon Church permitted men to marry more than one woman. An investigation showed that the builder, like many Mormons at the time, had more than one wife. In fact, he was married to seven women and had at least thirty children!

((MUSIC BRIDGE))You may wonder exactly how someone starts a genealogical investigation. Experts say you should start the investigation with yourself. Then work back to immediate family members like your parents and grandparents. Use proven facts first. Separate these facts from stories that are not proven.

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 genealogists find it helpful to use tape recorders. In this way, you can save your family member's own words and voice for future use.You can find much information in pictures, letters and other documents in your own home. Some of these things may be hidden in old books. You can find even more information in other places. For example, small reading centers may have books on local history. Larger libraries may have hundreds of helpful books.

In the United States, several organizations also have large collections of genealogical materials. These include the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Family History Library of the Mormon Church. Their collections are open to the public.The Family History Library in the state of Utah has about two-thousand-four-hundred visitors every day. The Library has information from almost every area of the world. Most records are from the years Fifteen-Fifty through Nineteen-Twenty. The records include the names of more than two-thousand-million people who have died.

Many people find it difficult to travel to Utah to use the Library. So, the Mormon Church has established more than three-thousand Family History Centers around the world. All of these centers are open to the public. The Mormon Church also created an Internet web site and other products to help people find and share family history information. The web site, FamilySearch dot com, is extremely popular.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))If your ancestors were members of a church, you can investigate church records. Records kept by churches are among the most dependable in a family history research project. Perhaps the most helpful records concern marriages and deaths. However, you should examine all records from the period during which your ancestor was active in the church.

Governments usually keep official copies of birth, marriage and death records. Death records, for example, say where the person lived. They give the names of the person's parents. They tell the cause of death.

Other evidence can be found in local court and tax records. And local governments may have copies of wills that tell what should be done with a person's property when he or she dies. Wills often provide unusual details about a person's life and possessions.The United States government has many helpful records for genealogists. For example, the government has done population or census 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.

At first, American census records were all handwritten and kept on paper. Now they are kept on microfilm, a photographic copy of printed material. You can find them at several government offices across the country. People with computers can use the Internet to find lists of records kept by the government.One of the most important places for census information is the National Archives in Washington, DC. The National Archives also keeps records on men and women who served in America's armed forces. These records can tell if an ancestor fought in any of the wars. They give details of the person's position and dates of military service.

The National Archives also has records of early settlers who received land from the government. It has lists of the many immigrants who arrived in America on ships at the beginning of the century. And it has current information on members of Native American Indian groups.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Today, many people use their computers to find Internet web sites on genealogy. There are hundreds of web sites to help people explore their family history. Web sites include many historical records. These include information about births, deaths, marriages, military service, ship passenger lists and census information. These web sites also provide information about how to find your ancestors and how to write your family's history.

However, finding your family roots is not always easy. Often, there is very little or no information about some family members. Continuing to search and investigate can produce results.For example, one man wanted to discover the history of his family. He knew that part of his family had lived in the same area of the state of Pennsylvania for almost two-hundred years. He knew the names of many ancestors but nothing more. His investigation found no additional information.

Then the man bought a copy of a map of the area printed more than one-hundred years ago. Many burial grounds at that time were near local churches. During a trip to the area, the man used the map to find these old burial grounds.

The information he found on old burial markers answered some of the questions about his ancestors. But 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 Americans say it helps them learn more about history. They say their search brings history to life by making it more personal. It gives them a better understanding of their family's place in history. And, it gives them a better understanding of themselves.

This program was written by George Grow. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Sarah Long.I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.


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