What inspires genealogists to pursue their family history? Is it burning questions such as: Why am I who I am? Who came before me that influenced who I am? What were the experiences of my forbearers that brought them to Canada, Toronto and so on? What challenges did these people face that ultimately impacted my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins?
In recent years with groundbreaking advances in the decoding of the human genome, DNA has gained importance to genealogists (especially adoptees who are interested in finding their biological parents and/or their ancestral roots). See services such as Ancestry, 23 and Me, Family Tree DNA etc. This is new territory for the lay researcher who may at first be overwhelmed by the science and may need to seek the help of experts in the field to provide some guidance See: Ian McCallum, Ce Ce Moore.
The first step in getting started in traditional genealogical research is to interview your elders. Find out as much as possible about your family connections by interviewing your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins and also close family friends. Keep in mind that asking questions of elders can raise suspicions, tax faded memories or raise unpleasant ones from the past. Most people who pursue genealogy often regret having waited too long to ask. Word of Caution: this exercise must be performed in a sensitive, patient, respectful, and loving way.
Nevertheless, one should not be discouraged. There are a myriad of tools that will allow you to get the information that you need to build a family tree and ultimately, to unravel the secrets of your family history.
Here are some of the next steps (in no particular order).
Familiarize yourself with genealogical websites (Ancestry.com and My Heritage are very popular but aren’t the only resources out there). For those researching their Jewish roots there is jewishgen.org.
Steve Morse’s “One Step” site is excellent; Find My Past is good for those with roots in the U.K.
Joining a special interest group such as Gesher Galicia or the Litvak SIG (special interest group) will introduce you to others who are researching the same regions. Special Interest groups can be accessed through Jewishgen.org.
This website has several Jewish Special Interest Forums which you can access if you are a Member. JGST offers the following SIGs: Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, DNA, Lithuania/Latvia/Belarus and Central Europe. These forums will enable you to talk with other like-minded researchers, which will help raise your confidence by increasing your skills and knowledge.
Lastly, you can attend our lectures offered by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto. We have one program per month that take place between September and June at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, 470 Glencairn Ave., just east of Bathurst St.
Family Research is a journey that will take you to unexpected places and at times seem frustrating. It will likely introduce you to family members who you never knew about; it may even gain you some friends in distant places. Your hard work will provide you and family members with priceless information that can be passed down through the generations.