Your Age Decides Your Family History Starting Point

Begining Genealogy RootsTech 2018

Do you treasure a china set that has been used in your family for years? Did you receive a China Set for your wedding? Or do think China is a country that makes great electronics and the home of Great Wall?

Your answers to this question could give you a clue as to how you would go about beginning in family history. Think I’m insane. I’m cool with that, but seriously, stay with me.

My mother had a china set that belonged to her ancestors. Sadly, this photo of the fact that we had a massive china cabinet is the only reminder of this collection. My mother received china for her wedding and then would add fancy dishes to her collection throughout her life. She thought she had arrived when she and dad had earned enough money to buy a china cabinet for all of this. Were we allowed to eat off that fancy dinnerware? Rarely! It was a treasure and treasures should be looked at but not actually used.

Fast forward to my home. I specifically asked for a functional dinner set when I got married. We have a few pieces of that collection as they have broken over the years because let’s face it. Kids are rough on dishes. In our cabinets, you’ll find plastic plates, bowls, and cups. We have a few mugs for hot chocolate but little else in the dinnerware category. And a china cabinet? Who wants that stress in their life? Remember. Kids are rough My five are homeschooled which means they're around all the time just waiting to break something.

When my mother-in-law was preparing to downsize, she was shocked that her children didn’t want her china collection or her china cabinet. It’s just not part of the treasures of my generation and will soon be forgotten with those are in the rising generation.

The correlation of China Sets to family history also relates to the other treasures in the home. Few 20-50-year-olds have any printed photo collections or aging photo albums. Few have stacks of vital documents, family bibles, diaries, and letters stored in attics. Few have memorabilia or clothing that belonged to a war veteran or was brought here from the old country.

So, if you tell a teenager to gather ‘home sources’ to begin their family history, you forget that their parents are likely in this under age group. Thus, teens and 20-50-year-olds are not going to have much in the way of photos and documents to base their initial family history research upon. That’s not to say they don’t; it’s just pointing out that in a short period the home records are going to perish and the history of ourselves along with it.

So, where do you start when you want to work on your family history? You capture the one thing that will soon be lost if you don’t do something about it. Preserve the files, photos, and artifacts in the homes of the oldest living relative you know.

If you’re the eldest living relative, don’t start climbing your tree until these historical treasures are actively being organized, digitized and shared.

If you’re the youngest, you need to become BFFs with the senior ancestor and preserve their greatest wealth. No, not the monetary wealth… the sentimental and historical richness.

I promise you that if you start your genealogical efforts in these places rather than online or in an archive, you will have a richer, deeper experience.

Devon will be presenting further on this topic at RootsTech 2018. Register today and come to her class:

RT2380 5 Steps for Successfully Starting Genealogy

RootsTech 2018 Speaker


  1. Great post! "Preserve the files, photos, and artifacts in the homes of the oldest living relative you know." is GREAT advice!!

    1. Thanks Cindi. I've experienced too much loss personally and vicariously. I don't want others to go through it as well.


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