Finding your Family History


This is a picture of my Great-Grandparents, Mary Lorenz and Peter Regan. This photo is from their wedding day in 1901. According to a Great Aunt (and one of their daughters), who I sat by at a wedding several years ago, their marriage caused a bit of a stir. Mary was German and Protestant, and Peter was Irish Catholic. They weren’t encouraged to be together. I didn’t get any details as to their meeting or courtship, but I can only imagine they must have loved each other/ been quite smitten, to have gone against convention to be together.

I had never seen a picture of them until I joined a couple of years ago. The website has this nice feature where it can connect you to other people that are searching the same people– so you get linked up with distant cousins. The benefit of this is that they may have more info and/ or pictures. Once you connect with them you can have access to information and photos that they’ve uploaded.

I’ve always been interested in family history, but didn’t really know how to go about searching anything. A couple of years ago when I was working at a public library, we had a program about the basics of searching. I think it was even called Genealogy 101. The presenter was really knowledgeable and projected onto our large screen a census record available through I hadn’t realized that so much information was on the records– everything from when the person immigrated, to the cost of their house, the number of children he/she had, and if they’re able to read and write. There is a national census record every ten years; the newest one is the 1940 census that became available last year. The only decade that is missing is the 1890 census, most of which burned in a fire.

1910 census

1910 census

One tip I learned that helped when I started was to get a blank notebook and put family members’ names on the top of each page. Then ask your relatives what they know about that person: birthday, immigration, when they died, etc.  Any dates or locations you can get will make searching Ancestry and other databases easier. charges a fee, but there are also several free resources available on the Internet. has many free records. I’ve found birth and marriage records not available on Ancestry here. You can either do a general search or scroll down to search by location. You can narrow to specific states and even search just within a type of record, like birth, death, or marriage.

Find a Grave. This has a morbid sounding name, but can be helpful. For one great-grandfather I found an entry with not only the grave location, but also other information that had originally been on his naturalization papers. One surprise was that he came in through the port at Baltimore rather than Ellis Island like I had assumed.

The Italian Genealogical Group has a website that links to birth, death, and marriage records for people in New York City– and includes non-Italians.

Ellis Island Passenger Search– I found relatives using this. Sometimes their names were spelled different.

The various spellings of names applies to all searching. Many names I came across were spelled different ways. This was true for both first names and last names.

Public libraries will sometimes have resources as well. In addition, there are old books that have been digitized that can be found by searching for your family member in Google Books.

Searching for family history in a way can seem like a never ending endeavor. Can you ever really find enough to have a complete picture? Plus there is always something new to search with different resources becoming available online every day. But it’s also immensely satisfying. It makes me think about the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead. The ancient belief is that people die three deaths. The first death comes when your body dies. The second death is when your body is buried in the ground. And the third and final death is when the last person who remembers you passes away. I feel like remembering my ancestors, even in a small way, honors them and gives them life.


One comment

  1. Patrick OConnor · · Reply

    Another interesting article on ancestors. Hope you have a wonderful day.

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