Why Study Dead People?
This article is based on an interview I had with Dr. Wayne Haston, an expert on discovering family history. So why study dead people? It’s a lonely hobby as it’s so narrowly focused! When Dr. Haston started doing research, he became overwhelmed with all he was finding. He had not yet retired and was fairly busy in his regular work. How was he going to organize all of the information he was discovering about his family history?
That was over 20 years ago and he has now found a way! His system of organization has been a huge asset in his ability to expand his research now that he is retired. Having two doctorate degrees definitely came in handy as he was used to researching. Approaching age 73 at the time of this writing, his research is rewarding, fun and keeping his mind sharp!
Where to Start with Family History
Wayne started his research by creating a website. (DanielHaston.com) By doing so, he could easily post new findings and illustrations. It was also a fairly easy way to organize his research. He also started an open Facebook group where he posts updates and is more easily linked with other family members. But most of his work is posted on the website. After taking a DNA test, Dr. Haston even posted his test result on his website. (Quite interesting to view!) With all his research organized and categorized over the years, he has now combined the material for an upcoming book. The large version will be a library only edition, already at 30 chapters and over 500 pages, eventually to be between 800-900 pages! However, he’ll provide a smaller download version as a free PDF file. Wayne has gone way beyond what many will attempt, but he is providing a long-lasting legacy for his family and future generations to come.
If you are interested in your family history, there are places online to start looking. There’s Ancestry.com, which starts with a free trial, but then a fee. There’s also a completely free site sponsored by the Mormon church, FamilySearch.org which is excellent. There are many other resources you will find with a Google search.
Solving the Mystery of Your Family History
Look for the unanswered questions. There are usually some theories or stories you will hear from other family descendants. You may have to do a little research to find them, but with social media, this is now more feasible! It’s also fun to visit some of those family members. We recently took a trip to my birthplace in Georgia and I walked away with new insights about my dad’s side of my family. I also found out the small town I was born used to be called Denhamville, going back to the Civil war, referring to my ancestor’s tannery that furnished shoes and boots for the soldiers! (Denham is my maiden name!)
Wayne discovered three main theories about where his family came from. After his DNA test, he knew which theory was correct and that opened up a whole new world. You may be unaware that many others have also done a lot of research on your family. If you can find and meet those people, you can ask them where they got stuck and what else there is to find. One contact told Wayne, There’s always something more in the bottom of the barrel! He then proceeded to find much more information not yet uncovered. This fact reminded me to check in with some of my family members before taking an extended trip to Italy to research my roots from my mom’s side of my family!
The Importance of Family History
Some people may think a study like this is crazy. You can be out doing other things like playing golf or traveling to exotic places. However, the more details you find, the more exciting it gets to discover more! I had a cousin come up to me during my mom’s memorial service and tell me she had done quite a bit of research in Italy she’d love to share with me. I got super excited and hope to meet with her soon!
The Jewish culture in biblical times definitely thought it was very important to mention the genealogical records in the Old Testament. In fact, they memorized many of those records. When Martin Luther first translated the Bible into German, thanks to the printing press, he sold 5,000 copies in just two weeks. From 1518-1525, Luther’s writings accounted for a third of all books sold in Germany and his German Bible went through more than 430 editions.* There is a large amount of genealogy included in the Bible and this has been very important for not only for religious organizations, but for both American and European history.
History also helps us to understand ourselves, our culture and life’s perspective. We hear the phrase, History repeats itself and it’s true! Just like political history repeats itself, you may find patterns of repetition in your family history. Understanding those patterns can empower you to move forward with steps for positive change and to even create a different path for future generations. That makes discovering your family history even more important and powerful!