Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
October is Family History Month
October has been Family History Month in the U.S. ever since Senator Orrin Hatch introduced a Senate bill in 2001 designating it a month to commemorate the contributions of families to our nation's history. The designation has spread far beyond our shores. As far as Wellington, New Zealand, in fact, where March 2009 was celebrated as Family History Month with special events at the National Library and four local Wellington genealogical societies.
The purpose in New Zealand as well as in this country is to call attention to the rewards of family research. Classes or special events are offered in many parts of the U.S. to highlight Family History Month. In our community where many residents are away until November, the Green Valley Genealogical Society normally sponsors special events in February and March.
Whatever the month, most of us are curious about our ancestry just because it's part of us. While many who are interested in their family's past will never undertake doing research themselves, in most families someone usually steps in to preserve the family's history. History will come alive for elementary and middle school students when they have knowledge of the part their ancestors played in the historical events they study.
Many other intangible benefits are realized through family history research besides learning more about individual family members. Local researcher Jill Bailey began to search for living family members and found unknown second cousins she never knew she had who were able to tell her stories about their common grandparents and great grandparents. For Jill it was a win-win situation-she not only learned answers to her questions, she continues to keep in touch with her newly found family.
Jill has also discovered that family members who have had little interest in her genealogical research turn to her for generational medical history. Evidence of many genetic conditions and diseases can be gleaned through family research. To track inherited conditions, the American Academy of Family Physicians provides a genogram template that can be downloaded free at http://www.aafp.org/fpm/20010300/genogramtemplate.pdf.
A genogram is used to diagram four generations of a family's genetic diseases such as high blood pressure, colon cancer, etc., or prevalence of conditions such as alcoholism or suicide. Similar to a family tree chart, the genogram is useful to doctors in diagnosing many inherited diseases. About 3000 of 10,000 known diseases are thought to be hereditary. One line of descent in my Bly family has an extraordinarily high number of cases of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) going back into the mid 1800s. That family line is now the subject of a study to learn more about the condition as 90% of cases are not hereditary.
It's also amazing to see family similarities not only in appearance but in talents, such as art, music, etc., when you meet second, third or even further removed cousins. When families immigrated from Europe and when early settlers migrated away from the east coast they generally kept in touch by mail for a generation or two. Once the personal contact was severed by death of the older generation, letters slowed and finally ceased. Now with the Internet connections are more easily maintained once they are found.
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11 October 2009
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