I have been teaching a class on writing life stories, and many who register for such classes are researching family history and genealogy. They find hints about fascinating family members and decide to write those stories for others in the family or for the public.
As a writer and public historian, of course, I applaud them. However, I also believe genealogy is like puzzle solving and that is good for our brains, especially for anyone who is a mature adult or senior.
Genealogy does not necessarily involve developing writing skills or style, but we can find information that captivates us. We put on our detective hats and find details about our forbearers. We talk to others and search on internet. All of those processes keep our brains just as active as solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles. Personally, I find genealogy more interesting and fully support the process of discovering details such as “Which steam ship did my grandfather sail on before arriving in Canada?” Generally, the information exists somewhere, but we might have to make our way through mazes to find it, and that is good for our brains.
Also, often, such details are integrated in stories written as nonfiction. For other writers, the details become part of creative nonfiction works, and sometimes they are even transformed into fiction. Whatever the genre and style, I consider it important to find and write family stories.
However, genealogy as related to specific ancestors may be important to the family but not necessarily to anyone else. Of course, many who investigate their family tree hope to find that they are related to famous people. Discovering such ancestors is undoubtedly rewarding, but for others, solving the puzzles and mysteries that they encounter along the way becomes almost addictive. Whatever their motivation, family history detectives are able to contribute to our knowledge of the past.
If you are tempted by the possibilities, you might simply search “genealogy,” and you will find hundreds of websites, many with excellent links and information. However, if a site requires that you register, it likely means you will be giving away information about your family and providing an email address for advertisers. Still, your providing that information could prove worthwhile.
Because I work with Alberta and western Canadian history, I can suggest some websites that might be helpful:
Ellis Island www.ellisisland.org has information about immigration through the port of New York. Castle Garden www.CastleGarden.org (an earlier name for immigration services through New York) is also useful since Canadian families first arrived at New York and moved to Canada.
Family History Archives www.lib.byu.edu/fhc is a popular site with a searchable data base from Brigham Young University in association with the Mormon Family History Centre
Pier 21 www.pier21.ca has information on many settlers who arrived in Canada through for the port of Halifax.
So, whatever your plan or motivation and whether you use your discoveries for family information, future writing projects or fun, good luck!