To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven in to the life of our ancestors by the records of history?
--Cicero, Roman Orator

Unlike many of their cultures of origin, Americans do not normally have as strong ties to their heritage; they perceive their biographies to be generally independent of history and not based upon the deeds of their ancestors. As a result, Americans' interest in genealogical matters is often assumed to be less than in most other cultures. The extent of this roots ignorance is evident among Trinity University undergraduates. Surveys of those enrolled in the university's Sociology of Marriage and Family Processes class between 1995 and 2004 reveal:

While this absence of interest may be the consequence of individualism and an abundance of free will, it may also be the result of more mundane facts of life. This culture of immigrants sees many of its members leaving behind in their homelands the records and memories of their ancestors. The American melting pot required the shedding of their pasts as well as their names. Further, high rates of geographical (and social) mobility further estranged any connections between generations alive and dead. The further West one goes, the fewer the cemeteries containing high proportions of lots with four or more generations of family members.

To counter rampant individualism, an ideology emerging from religious and communitarian circles stresses the need for generations to remember their roots and to consider their obligations to those yet to be born. (In the Trinity surveys we find that the more great-grandparents students can name the more likely they are to agree with the statement "All in all, it is more important to sacrifice for future generations than to live life for its enjoyment.") This thesis is slowly seeping into public discourse, entering either directly from theological, philosophical, and anthropological sources or, from them, through the popular culture.  For instance, in Jeremy Rifkin's Time Wars we learn how the "Iroquois see themselves as servants of the past and stewards of the future. ...When the Iroquois make decisions they do so always with the thought of honoring their ancestors and nurturing their unborn progeny. ...An Iroquois chief explains the process:

We are looking ahead, as is one of the first mandates given to us chiefs, to make sure [that] every decision we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come, and that is the basis by which we make decisions in council (1987:65).

One of the best ways to begin investigating one's family's genealogy is to interview its oldest members. For question ideas, check out's "Fifty Questions for Family History Interviews" in addition to its Genealogy 101 site. (By the way, what is a third cousin twice removed?)   Best genealogical software for the price (it's free): Legacy.

Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Web --"Over 254,200 links, categorized and cross-referenced in over 150 categories"

The Genealogy Home Page--massive archive of resource sites

RootsWeb: "The oldest and largest FREE genealogy site"

The Church of Latter-Day Saints' FamilySearch

ProGenealogists Family History Research Group--from a consortium of professional genealogists who specialize in genealogy and family history research

Did your family enter the New World through Ellis Island? If so, check the Ellis Island database, which covers arrivals from 1892 through 1924, the peak immigration years.  What to see the geographical distribution of your surname?  Try out Hamrick Software's U.S. Surname Distribution.

HeritageQuest Online

Genealogy Today--"Genealogy help for newbies, family researchers, genealogists and professionals."

FamilyTree Magazine "Discover, Preserve, and Celebrate Your Family History"

Social Security Death Index

CEMSEARCH--an online cemetery inscription search engine, part of Obituary Central

PBS "Ancestor" series (shown early 1997)

GeneaNet--List of surnames dating before 1850
Speaking of surnames, do you know the origin and meaning of yours? Take a look at Surnames: What's In a Name?

National Genealogical Society - Home Page

United States Vital Records Information

Census Bureau's Name Search

Collections of old family photographs

Journal of Online Genealogy

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