Celebrate Family History Month by Discovering Your Roots

Monday, October 5, 2020

October is here and you know what that means – cooler weather, changing leaves, and an abundance of pumpkin-flavored treats! But did you know that the month of October is also nationally recognized as Family History Month? That’s right! On September 26, 2001, just two weeks after the devastating 9/11 attacks on our nation, Senate Resolution 160, originally introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, was unanimously passed, declaring the month of October as Family History Month. 

The resolution, which can be viewed online here, brings up some very interesting statistics about genealogy circa 2001. It also recognizes the value of collections held by libraries, archives, and cultural institutions across our nation to genealogical research. Family History Month invites us to learn more about our own heritage and the people, places, and stories that make up the history of our world. 

Deshong Family Photo Collection, PhC.248, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.

Why Should I Trace my Family’s Genealogy? 

Over the years, genealogy has become a popular hobby. If you have some extra time on your hands, it might be a fun activity to pick up this month! Genealogy can be a very enjoyable activity because it can be exciting to find old documents and images from generations past. It can help history come to life for you as you view how it impacted the lives of your ancestors. Genealogy can also be a great tool for family bonding as it encourages us to talk with our family members. It also can be rewarding to pass down information to future generations. 

Others might have more practical reasons for getting involved in genealogy. One example might be for personal health reasons. Tracing genealogy and medical history could help you determine the heredity of certain illnesses in your family. Others might want to prove their heritage to gain benefits from a particular organization. Obtaining membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution or enrolling in a particular Native American tribe are just a few examples. Others might do so for legal reasons, such as gaining a rightful inheritance. 

Get Started in Genealogy Research 

showing screenshot of “Course Introduction” YouTube video featuring a drawing of a tree and extensive roots underground

Caught the genealogy bug? The Government & Heritage Library (GHL) has a lot of resources to help you get started in the search for your ancestors! First, check out our guide to getting started in genealogy research and staying organized here: https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/genealogy/get-started

We also have a free, self-paced genealogy course called RootsMOOC available at https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/genealogy/roots-mooc. MOOC stands for massive online open course. This class was created by staff at the GHL and Wake Forest University’s Z. Smith Reynolds Library in 2015. Though the original run of the class has ended, all four of the modules, including accompanying video and print resources, are still accessible at the above link, so you can take the class at any time! 

Taking First Steps in Your Search 

Genealogy at first can appear overwhelming and you might be wondering where to even start. When you feel ready to begin, start your research with yourself and work backwards in time. Talk to your family members who are willing to discuss family history, especially those who relatives who are older, and try to learn as much as you can about your family. They might be able to provide a lot of valuable insight and information. 

A great place to begin your search is to look through the U.S. Census. The census is often considered the backbone of genealogical research as it places individuals in a particular time and place. The latest census available is the 1940 census as privacy laws require that 72 years must pass before information on a census is released. Census records are available online through subscription sites such as HeritageQuest or Ancestry.com. We recommend starting backward in the U.S. Census, starting with locating ancestors in the 1940 census and then moving backward every ten years to the first U.S. Census in 1790. 

Don’t forget that if you are a North Carolina resident, you can also apply for a state library card, which can provide you with access to a variety of online resources that can help you in your search. To apply for a library card, see the instructions detailed at this link: https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/services/library-card. To see a full list of online resources our library provides access to, visit the following webpage: https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/resources/online. Note the tabs on that page for different types of resources as well as the key on the right-hand side of the page that will help you determine how each resource can be accessed.  

Whatever reason you have for searching for your ancestors, genealogy is meant to be an enjoyable learning experience! Be sure to keep an open mind to what history you might uncover and have fun making new discoveries! Happy Family History Month! 

Taylor Thompson, Reference Service Assistant