Use the Holidays to Learn About Your Past

  

By Secretary of State Jason Kander

 

Each year, the holiday season brings together family and friends for shared meals and get-togethers. These gatherings provide a perfect opportunity to explore your family’s past, and the resources provided by the Missouri State Archives, a division of my office, can help you chronicle your own family history. 

The first step in any genealogical research is building a family tree. It’s best to start with yourself and work backward, filling in the information you know. Countless records are available on databases like Missouri Digital Heritage, the Judicial Records and Census records, and can help you fill in gaps. 

Missouri’s wealth of information extends to cultural institutions such as local courthouses, historical societies, libraries and museums, churches and genealogical societies across the state. Some larger regional genealogical research centers also offer free access, such as the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center in St. Louis, the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence or the Library Center in Springfield. 

Your search doesn’t have to end with names and birth dates. Records can help paint a fuller picture of who your ancestors were and provide context to the times in which they lived.

Take my experience, for example. I was able to find my great-grandfather’s World War I enlistment records on Missouri Digital Heritage. I’d been talking with my grandfather about our family’s history of service, and he told me he knew his father had been on the receiving end of a gas attack in World War I, but that’s all he know of his Army days. We found his service record and discovered he’d been a member of the 89th Division, and Gen. Leonard Wood commanded his unit. Some 80 years later, I wore the same unit patch of the 89th Division, and returned from a different war to serve four years at Ft. Leonard Wood—a base named after my great-grandfather Harold’s commander. 

Holiday family gatherings are also a great time to take advantage of the knowledge and memories of other relatives. Share and sort old family photos. With a soft leaded pencil, you can record names and approximate dates on the backs of photos. Ask your grandparents about the people in the photographs. Where did they live? What types of jobs did they have? Piecing together these details can offer new insights into your family history. 

Modern technology has made preserving family history easier for us than for any generation before. A great way to document the present for future generations is by recording oral histories. Consider sitting down with one of your grandparents or other relatives after dinner and using your smart phone to record a conversation about some of the most important events in their lives. The most important audience to share with is your family, of course. But consider also creating a comprehensive volume to contribute to the collection of Missouri family histories maintained by the Missouri State Archives. New additions enrich the collective history of us all. 

The folks at the Archives are always available to help with your research needs. They even have a family tree template available in either a paper or digital form with fillable slots to get you started on your genealogy search. Contact them by emailing archref@sos.mo.gov or call (573) 751-3280, and enjoy the holiday.