Genealogy is growing in popularity among young people
Youngsters hardly know anything about their grandparents. Let alone about their great-great-grandparents. Not even a date of birth. It’s even rarer that something remains about ancestors like a diary. They passed long ago and we know nothing about them.
Every person has probably more data about himself than about all his ancestors before him. This is because of wealth and globalization. Especially because the internet and other digital devices. So we have tons of mails, posts, photos, videos and chats. What if we would have such data about our ancestors? You would learn as much about them as about yourself, your traits and your choices. It would even guide in new choices or help to understand your own life.
There have been infinite coincidences that lead up to your existence. All the way from the start of life on earth until who you are today. A lot can be learned from the path of life before you. You, with your ways. With your flaws, talents and humor. Where do they come from? What did our ancestors did?
What we currently have, are a few things of our grandparents, some oral stories, a few pictures and maybe a small family tree. When the family tree is big this is mostly because someone in the family did a lot of research after his pension. The whole issue was that everything had to be done manually. So you had to go to the city or a regional archive. You had to sit and go for hours through these archives to find something and then decipher the handwriting. This is painstaking donkey work.
Another issue was that archives were local, so when there was a connection on the other side of the country one needed to go the archive of that city. Your family history was scattered over all sorts of regional and church archives. Young people just didn’t have the time for this kind of research. That’s a pity, because not only do we not know our heritage, but we miss the fun of solving those puzzles related to ones own family.
The good thing is that previous generations recorded much in church and town registers. Currently, they come more and more available online. One of the biggest sites is MyHeritage.com. This Israeli company brings a platform where people can insert, upload and browse their family trees. They also offer historical records, smart matches with other family trees and DNA analysis. Probably in the future AI can be used to get all data from the web and match this for you.
I’m not however using this software. Not only because of their ridiculous prices (it’s more expensive than a Netflix subscription), aggressive marketing or security incidents. I don’t use it (as well as Geneanet or Ancestry.com), because they take away all the fun.
A private detective
To build up a family tree we have to be some kind of private detective. The beginning is simple, you enter your own data and be as extensive as you can be. This helps future generation to make connections. Then you add your parents, grandparents and also their brother and sisters. Some forget about the last, but they are important so that other families can make connection with yours and be sure that it’s complete.
I started this research around twenty years ago. Of course some family members pointed me there was an aunt around who had “the whole family tree” written down. It wasn’t. It was the whole family tree on A4 paper. Not very extensive and only one branch. So I started to ask around. Asking uncles, aunts and older relatives who were still alive. Then I got stuck.
Fortunately around 2000 things started on the internet. This was mostly done by amateur genealogists for their own family tree. Every 2 or 3 years I went online to see what was published. And every time I found a little more about the history of my family.
A learning curve
So over the years I learned that my father's family were farmers from the north, while my mother's family were more backers and shopkeepers. Some paths even went abroad to Germany, Belgium and even Suriname and Spain. My family name “Meester” (Eng. “Master” or “Teacher”), came from an ancestor who really was a teacher (and his father had a total different surname).
These name changes are especially tricky in the time before Napoleon when surnames weren’t fixed yet. In the French time in the Netherlands (1794 tot 1814) this became fixed and better recorded. So everything from now until 1814 is relatively easy to find. Most of the information can be found on the website:
WieWasWie (Who Was Who?) is an official database with the original documents of many events. You can find more than 200 million persons. Here real detective work starts. Some parts are digitalized, but some you need to look at the original scans. Also, the documents are standalone. So a birth and death certificate aren’t linked, you have to make these yourself. That’s something that’s has to be done very precise.
Everything until 1814 is completed now. I am now coming in more uncharted territory. Family in the 16th and 17th century. The family tree becomes wider and wider (and sometimes they also come together because of interbreeding…). For my sons I also want to map my wife’s family tree. My wife’s family is from Poland. Poland’s turbulent past makes this even more difficult. For example because of large repatriation of Poles after the 2nd world war. Still a lot of detective work to do.
Before my pension date
I don’t have to wait for my pension to do this research. Actually, I have already more than 1600 persons in my own family tree. I’m not even 40 (almost). I’m further than people who started pedigree research after retirement. In recent years I see more and more young people becoming enthusiastic to get to know their own past by modern means.
What I particularly learned is how blessed we are living today. The careers we choose for example. My ancestors were mostly in low or middle class jobs. They had no choice. They helped farmers, worked in factories or for some rich family. Staying around the same village and maybe married someone from the next one.
We don’t have to work from young age and can choose all kind of jobs. We live longer and travel further. I studied in Berlin, I worked in retail, logistics and IT. My wife isn’t from the next village, but from abroad. I knew my grandparents in person. And some lived longer than 90.
We have all the time in the world. Genealogy is a great thing to spend it. To learn about your families past and about yourself. And you don’t have to wait, but you just open Google.