Among my many adventures this summer I had the honor of introducing genealogy to nine junior high and high school Pioneers and Patriots within an American Heritage Girls troop. This was not the first family history daycamp I had coordinated for an AHG troop – I had led one for Explorer level girls last summer (see Little girls, family trees and a cemetery trip over at 100 Years in America). This one, however, was by far more exciting in terms of ancestral finds and the number of girls who visibly caught the genealogy bug! Within just a few hours of being introduced to the various databases at our local Family History Center, these girls made some important family document discoveries. In fact, I was in awe of what one group of sisters was able to dig up on their family tree in only a few short hours.
We started work on the girls’ Ancestor Detector badges at our local Family History Center, where I had asked generous volunteers to be prepared for an influx of young ladies new to family history. After I gave a brief introduction to genealogy and the center, each volunteer paired off with at least two girls to give them an “online tour” of the various databases available, particularly Family Search and Ancestry. One group of three sisters, along with their Mom who came to help out as chaperon, decided to stick together as they researched their family (instead of breaking off into pairs as the other girls had). Their mother, who had brought the girls’ younger sister, had intended to spend the several hours just passing the time entertaining her daughter while we did the badgework. But after only a few minutes of digging into family documents online, she was hooked. She later posted about her newfound hobby on Facebook:
With the loot of ancestral records that this family found within several hours of online searching, I was not surprised at her reaction. I think I was more excited than them at their discoveries! They had uncovered a great-grandfather’s three attempts at U.S. citizenship complete with the applications and rejections for all three attempts! (According to the records, he was “not sufficiently attached to the Constitution”. That discovery stirred up a lot of discussion within our group!) The final file included great-grandfather’s photograph, which was a thrill to find since they had never seen his face before. On their search for records on another branch of their family tree, the girls discovered an early 20th century family portrait of the entire extended family. On top of all this, the girls made some discoveries which helped them to determine which generation and which branches of the family had changed their surname from the original Italian. They had known cousins with a variation of their name, but had not known why or when the change had occurred. Fun genealogy discoveries!
The other AHG girls had success also. I was particularly pleased to watch one teenager studying the obituary she had found for her grandmother, who had died before she was born and whose name she had been given. It was an afternoon of joyful discovery.
Two days after our research session, our group made a visit to a historic cemetery and then reconvened at a local public library to finish up our badgework, create scrapbooks with the documents we had found, and discuss genealogy. I loved hearing the girls’ reactions to their finds and learning that several had serious plans to continue their research during their summer break. Success!