I’ve always been interested in my family’s history. I think it’s fun to look through old records and books and photos to find out where I came from. To me, it’s even a great way to travel through our home state of Virginia. Some genealogical records are online, but there are plenty where you have to head to another city and actually thumb through old records at courthouses and other places.
I think it’s fun, but try telling that to my family. Whenever I would suggest exploring our family history, my wife, Sarah, would say, “Will, I’m not spending my vacation stuck in a dirty, musty basement.” My kids – you can imagine what they said. Most of their protests involved the word “boring.” Driving is boring. Research is boring. Our family is boring. My boys, Mike (the oldest) and Lucas (the youngest) were more concerned about doing cool stuff on vacation, having an adventure. My middle child, Anna – she really hammered on how boring it all would be–and how boring our family is.
You see, Anna is 13, and she has the teenage attitude down. She doesn’t want to hang out with her family; she only wants to talk to and text with her friends. Amazingly, it was Anna who pushed the rest of the family into taking our first genealogy trip.
Like most kids, Anna and her brothers didn’t really pay attention when the adults in the family talked at dinners and the holidays. So, they never heard the stories about their relatives. These are not boring stories, but you couldn’t convince them of that, especially Anna. I finally got sick of hearing how boring my family was, so one Saturday on our monthly visit to see my grandmother in the next town over, I made the kids sit on the couch and asked Grandma Nora if she would tell us what it was like to grow up during World War II in London during The Blitz while Germany bombed the city for weeks and months.
All three kids were sitting on the couch, arms folded, pouting, not wanting to listen, but when I mentioned that their great-grandma survived massive bombings, their ears perked up. Grandma Nora didn’t usually talk about The Blitz, but that day, she told the whole story of her experience: sirens, explosions, rubble, helping families whose homes had been destroyed, trying to stay positive in the middle of the most frightening time of her life.
The kids were amazed at Grandma Nora’s experiences, but when she revealed that she went through it all at age 13, Anna was hooked.
After that day, Anna started asking me questions about genealogical research, and I showed her how to track down family trees online. She asked about why Grandma Nora moved to the United States from England and when, so we found immigration records. From this research, Anna put together a list of names and places and stories, and she wanted to learn more.
I told her the only way to do that was to go to those boring, old historic societies, libraries, archives, and county courthouses. She already knew where she wanted to go – Richmond. It didn’t take her long to convince her brothers and Sarah that driving to Richmond and spending time researching and checking out the city would be a lot of fun.
Like I mentioned, Anna found a lot of information online. When we visited the archives and courthouses, she went straight to the old records that weren’t available online, or even on microfilm. Mike and Lucas spent a little time flipping through some of the books and photos and exploring the buildings, but we made sure they had time to have some adventures. They got their fill of excitement rafting and riding roller coasters. Sarah loved the fact that we were all together having fun (and eating some good food and shopping).
We’ve made a lot of trips to other cities in Virginia and other states since that trip to Richmond. The boys still want adventure, and we make sure they get it. Still, they do like learning about their family. Sarah is even getting into it, digging into her family tree and history.
And Anna? She has stacks of notebooks and many more files on her computer, and she’s developing a flair for storytelling, just like Grandma Nora.