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House History & Genealogy

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Cultivating a Sense of Place through Genealogy, Home History, & Neighborhood Research

Originally written and posted by Ryan Fitzgerald on Saturday, November 20th, 2021

House History and Genealogy

The Importance of Teaching Our Children History

When children learn about their family history, they not only develop high self-esteem and a feeling of worth, but they are able to better handle stress. Since family stories help children understand who they are and where they came from, they are able to form a sense of identity while gaining a greater understanding of the past. It is this learning of the past that allows present and future generations to live their lives with confidence and a sense of appreciation for our ancestors.

Family stories provide us with a sense of belonging and have a direct impact on the way we hold ourselves. Shared stories over generations play an important role in shaping our view of the world around us. It is through family history that designates traditions and cultures that are practiced today. The recollections of personal stories and experiences will teach loved ones how to form relationships and to avoid making past mistakes.

It is through this learning of family and personal history that will create a sense of place in one’s life. A sense of place can be described as the routines, activities, and attachments to a specific place and the influence it has on a person’s life. Developing a sense of place is important since it establishes personal identity, connects a person to the environment, and forms a sense of appreciation and empathy. Forming a sense of place is often triggered by an important memory or emotional response to a location and the reactions to it. Developed through time and reflection, recognizing a sense of place is unique to the individual and is one of the many ways to develop a sense of belonging.

Family History

Genealogy is the study of descent traced from an ancestor. If you have always wanted to learn about your family history and have been delving into all things genealogy then there are a few things to consider before getting started. Once you identify what you already know and what you want to learn, it will make the research process that much easier. Make sure to identify your sources and evaluate all important information on record.

Supplies To Get Started

On the hunt to learn more about your family history, get your kids involved by gathering tools and supplies that will come in handy on the family history research journey. While most of these items are not required to ensure that you learn valuable information, they may prove to be helpful. Since most of the items listed below might already be in your home, learning about your ancestors should be a cheap and relatively free adventure.

Start by gathering the following items:

  • Notepad

  • Pens and/or pencils

  • A binder

  • Library card

  • Audio or video recorder

  • Blank genealogy forms

  • Relationship chart

  • Access to the internet and a map

Creating a Family Tree

A family tree is a visual representation of an individual’s lineage that traces common ancestors through relationships. While a family tree is normally drawn out in a tree structure, the diagram can take any shape. Any family members that are on the tree are typically listed with birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates. Not only is this a cool way to learn about your ancestors, but it is interesting to visually see the relationship between family members. Creating a family tree is not only fun but it will help you trace genetics and learn more about important historical events related to your family.

Before starting a family tree of your own it is important to figure out how far back in time to go. Decide what information should be included and whether or not there should be pictures. There is no right or wrong way to make a family tree and it is truly up to you how you want to approach it. While many may choose to hand draw a family tree, there are now plenty of online resources and templates to follow.

The steps towards creating a family tree:

  1. Gathering information

  2. Create a family tree outline

  3. Include pictures, important dates, and any other information of significance if necessary

  4. Share the completed family tree with the rest of the family

Creating a Kinship Diagram

Similar to a family tree, a kinship diagram specifically focuses on the relationships of ancestors. Kinship diagrams use a series of basic symbols to help distinguish individuals which makes them differ from a family tree. Utilized mostly by anthropologists, kinship diagrams show no specific names, dates, or pictures. Once an individual learns the symbols that are associated with the diagram, this chart is super simple to read. Females are represented by circles, males are represented by triangles, and people as both or neither sex are represented by squares.

The steps towards creating a kinship diagram:

  1. Learn all of the symbols

  2. Identify one individual as “Ego” and place it at the center of the page

  3. Add the kin to ego

  4. Choose colors and styles by descent and relatives

  5. Write out relationships if desired

Interviewing a Family Member

One of the best ways to gather valuable information about family history is to go straight to the source. Instead of analyzing birth charts and marriage records all day, why not conduct an interview with a family member instead. Not only is this a great way to spend time with a loved one and ask questions, but you will be able to listen to heartwarming stories and memories. When interviewing an older family member, make sure to ask about their life experiences and any accomplishments that they have had throughout their life. This is a no-pressure opportunity to ask as many or as few questions as you want.

Consider these questions before interviewing a family member:

  1. Who will you interview?

  2. How will you talk to them?

  3. What questions will you ask?

  4. How will you document their answers?

Historical Family Favorite Recipes

Family history can be more than just interesting stories and memories. In fact, food is one of the best ways to keep the past alive. By creating a family cookbook of recipes made by your ancestors, continue to create dishes and meals that will live on forever. Gather a list of family favorite recipes and dedicate a day cooking to decide which ones are your favorites. Cookbooks can be handmade, printed online, or accessed through an app.

Add to Your Family History

Why not start adding to your family history now? Writing in a journal is a great way to keep track of day-to-day events and memories. There are many ways to journal and get creative. Common journaling methods include writing in a paper journal, digital journaling online, photo journals, and doodle journals. The opportunities are endless. The stories jotted down today might just be read and cherished by future generations tomorrow.

Additional Family History Resources:

  • Family Tree Kids: Featuring games, activities, and digital family trees designed specifically for kids.

  • The Genealogy Kids: Learn how to involve your kids in genealogy. There are various family history activities for children to take part in.

  • Map My Ancestors: This free printable map and activity is a great way to map out family history and heritage.

  • MyHeritage: Create your own family tree online by using family photos and a wide variety of research tools. This is great for beginners and teenagers to use due to its simplicity.

Exploring Your House History With Your Kids

Supplies to Get Started

Even though family history may be intriguing, learning about the history of a home is just as exciting. Unless new construction is involved, many homeowners are probably wondering when their home was built and who lived inside of it before them? While these may be obvious questions, the answers may not be as easily presented. With the help of your kids, you might just uncover more than you bargained for.

Step One - Gathering Information

While this might sound like the simplest step in the process, digging up information is particularly tedious and overwhelming. All types of information can pop up including old pictures of the home or old stories of previous owners. A good place to start is by measuring the dimensions of your home, yard, and any other outstanding characteristics. Measuring the square footage of the home and learning how to find property lines might also prove to be useful in the overall hunt for information.

If you have no idea where to start, enlisting the help of a local librarian will help guide you in the right direction when trying to obtain property records, building permits, blueprints, or maps. Make sure to check your local library for newspaper records and other historical documents, research online for historical events in the area, and consult with a local historian or historical society near you. If you were moving to Raleigh, moving to Cary, or moving to Morrisville, you could contact the Wake County Historical Society. Since most house histories will be completed in the area where the property is located, consulting the local historical society might be the best option since street names or house numbers could have changed over time.

Step Two - Organizing, Analyzing, and Interpreting Your Findings

Once all information has been gathered about the history of the home, it is time to organize and make sense of what was found. Even if not all of the information makes sense, once it is put together it will start to complete the big picture. Since you will most likely be dealing with a large amount of data, it might be best to organize all findings in a word document or spreadsheet. While there may be many ways to organize the data found, most of the time it is preferred to sort in chronological order by year of the document or by the source of the document. Even if there are gaps in time or conflicting information, just roll with it and see where the story leads.

Step Three - Compile and Present Your Work

After all of the data has been sorted to create one big story, it is time to present the findings to share with the rest of the family. One of the best ways to involve your children in the process is by creating a house history scrapbook. Not only will this become a cherished keepsake of history and memories for your children, but scrapbooking is a creative process to organize everything in one place. Include pictures of the house, memories, and history, and have them decorate it as they please. Collages can also be created by throwing together photographs, fabrics, and other cool materials.

Another creative way to present the information found is through a video series. Since most kids, these days are surrounded by all types of media on a daily basis, have your children express themselves through video and technology. Let your kids direct it any way they want whether it be through storytelling, reenacting of memories, stop-motion video, or through music.

Additional House History Resource For Kids

  • American Institute of Architects for Kids: Learn about architecture through digital design programs and architecture events for kids.

  • Inventors of Tomorrow: Designed for kids ages 3-6 years, this hands-on engineering activity teaches kids how to build their own home using foam boards.

  • Historical Homes: One of the best ways to learn about home history is by visiting and touring historical homes. This list of 25 historical homes in the United States to visit is a great resource.

Exploring Community History

Learning about the history of your community will provide a better understanding of the history of your own home and your place within it. Through spoken stories, community events, and traditions, food, culture, important landmarks, and historical homes, the history of a community can be explored. Local landmarks, in particular, are important since they are a visual representation and reference point of past events. For instance, Sanford is home to the Temple Theatre which is a historical performance center that was built in 1925. By visiting the local library and museums, learn about the importance of the community and how it was formed.

Additional Community History Resources

Historical Tours

Historical tours are a great way to explore your city while also learning about its significance. Depending on the city and location, different types of tours may be offered. For those moving to Durham, the Downtown Durham Walking tour is a must-try. While walking around, admire the historical buildings and businesses.

  • Historic Raleigh Trolley Tours: Offered three days a week on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, this one-hour trolley tour travels all over historic downtown Raleigh.

Living History Sites

Living history sites are role-playing attractions that are located all throughout the United States. Depicting specific times in history, living history museums immerse visitors in the past and provide kids with a hands-on experience of other cultures and historical events.

  • Historic Jamestowne Virginia: Learn about this 17th-century settlement and the Powhatan people through interactive exhibits and events.

  • Colonial Williamsburg Virginia: As the largest and richest colony during the American Revolution, this site features historical buildings and lantern-lit walking tours. Attend reenactments and admire authentic 18th-century costumes.

  • American Revolution Museum: Located in Yorktown, Virginia, this historical site played an important role in the American Revolution. Open all year round, enjoy reenactments and historical demonstrations.

Cemetery Tours

Even though cemeteries can be creepy, especially at night, conducting online cemetery research is a great way to further learning about family history and the history of a community. Whether you want to discover where your ancestor was laid to rest or where an important historical figure is buried, cemetery tours provide just that. There are plenty of cemetery tours offered all over the country.

  • Online Cemetary Research: Known as the world’s largest resource for GPS cemetery information. Instead of physically going to a cemetery, look up headstone images online.

Hi there! I'm Ryan Fitzgerald, a REALTOR in Raleigh-Durham, NC and the owner of Raleigh Realty. Chances are you and I share a similar passion, Real Estate! I also have a passion for building businesses, working out, inspiring others, technology, sports, and people. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram.

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