Tracing and Recording One’s Family History: A Worthwhile Holiday Project

Image: Gemma Evans

Holidays mean more time with extended family relations whom one sees only this time of year. This makes it an ideal time to work on tracing and recording one’s family history, although there is no reason one cannot embark on this project any other time.

I did some initial work on tracing and recording my own genealogy for a Philippine history class in college. Our professor assigned it as a project; he said it would let us understand how we are part of history. In retrospect, I think the project also gave me an idea of how historians work. (Homeschooling parents looking for projects to assign, take note!)

I worked by interviewing relatives during family gatherings and taking down notes. It was a very rewarding process. I heard stories about adventurous settlers and exiles from Spain, indio revolutionaries, World War II heroes, and a librettist who translated Verdi’s Rigoletto into Cebuano.

Right now, many of my sources for these stories are either dead or aging. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to hear and record these stories. These stories, after all, may be personal anecdotes, but they are also part of national and even world history.

The endeavour gave me a sense of who I am, and why I am the way I am. It gave me deeper insights into my own identity, and reasons to be proud of it.

Of course, I also discovered some things about my family which I do not feel comfortable writing about publicly. But no family is perfect. Furthermore, as the movie Coco has shown, confronting the root of family wounds can be the beginning of healing and redemption.

If I had more time and money to continue this project, I would probably look for civil registry documents, newspaper clippings, and other materials, and then go further to where those sources in turn lead. I would most likely need to travel domestically and internationally to do this, but who knows what opportunities may come my way. In fact, I regret not having gotten in touch with my Spanish roots during my one year stay in Spain.

If I were to pursue this project further, it would definitely put me in touch with distant living relatives with whom I can communicate. I am sure it would be exciting getting to know long lost relatives in unlikely places.

At present, however, life deprives me of time and money to continue this project beyond recording oral histories. Still, I think it is a worthy endeavour even if I do not go further. I owe it to my family and myself to preserve our stories for future generations. At the very least, I owe it to my relatives whom I interviewed who were willing to tell their — our — stories.

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