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Rooting around

Genealogists discover more about themselves as they unearth their family trees

Created date

November 26th, 2013
Genealogists discover more about themselves as they unearth their family trees

When Mike Eder began researching his mother s family, all he really knew about his maternal great-grandfather was that he had a thick German accent and a wooden leg. Then one day he hit pay dirt. I had run into what they call a brick wall, says Mike, who leads the Genealogy Club at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. So I posted my family information on and waited to see if anyone would contact me. Years passed, and I had just about given up hope when a lady in South Carolina contacted me and said she suspected my grandfather and her grandmother were brother and sister. That lady turned out to be a cousin Mike had never met. She then introduced him to yet another cousin who lived nearby and had the information he was looking for. I found out that my great-grandfather came to America in 1855 and later fought with the Union Army in the Civil War, says Mike. He fought all up and down the Shenandoah Valley and ultimately got his leg shot off near a place called Brandy Station, in Virginia.

A living puzzle

Mike is one of millions of people who are discovering their roots through genealogy. In 2012,, the world s largest online genealogy company, reported a billion dollars in revenue and more than two million paid subscribers. It s no longer a niche, says CEO Tim Sullivan in an ABC News interview. There s a broad, mainstream interest in family history. Originally, genealogy only concerned the ancestry of rulers and nobles and was used to demonstrate the legitimacy of claims to wealth and power. But today, people are interested in genealogy for a wide range of uses. Some [people] want to know the medical history of their ancestors, says Jordan Jones, director of the National Genealogical Society. Others, he adds, may want to trace their roots to determine if they are eligible to claim an inheritance. Jones says even the government uses genealogy to help identify the families of fallen military service men and women. People who get interested in puzzles get interested in genealogy, he says. They hear some story about their family, and they decide to see what they can find out.

Link to the past

Evelyn McGreal was bitten with the genealogy bug in the late 1980s after her niece told her, You are our only link to the past. When she told me that, I thought, Oh and what a weak link it is, says Evelyn, who lives at Oak Crest. That s when I decided to start doing some research. There was a group here in Baltimore that used to host trips twice a month to the National Archives, in Washington, D.C. I would go along periodically and spend the day doing research. Evelyn assembled her findings in a book titled History of the McGreal-McCann Descendants, which follows the footsteps of her great-grandfather Thomas McCann. Once you start researching your family history, you never really stop, says Evelyn. You might take a break for some time and then pick it back up, but you never really finish. The third Tuesday of each month, the Genealogy Club at Oak Crest meets to share tips and host lectures on topics like how to properly conduct research and preserving old photographs. Mike says genealogy is really about three stages: researching, organizing, and sharing. The first step is to start talking to your oldest living relatives and find out what they know and move down the line from there, says Mike. Next, he suggests using websites like or to keep track of your information. Programs like these will also guide you to what you need to do next, he says. However, Mike warns the biggest challenge when recording the information is keeping it interesting and in bite-sized chunks. When I began researching my mother-in-law s family, I thought I would just see how many names I could get, says Mike. Then my wife said, I m not interested in the number of names, I m interested in the stories. People like stories rather than just dry facts, so I encourage people to start creating a legacy by sharing what they find as they go along. As families gather to celebrate the holidays, Mike says it s also the perfect time to start discovering your family history. The holidays are a good opportunity to talk to family members you may only see once a year, says Mike. Once you start asking questions, you never know what you ll discover.