When I was in college, I dabbled a bit with genealogy.
I haven’t touched it in a decade and a half. Lately, I’ve felt that I needed to find my own names to take to the temple so I started messing around a little online and all I can say is: WOW.
In the olden days, you went to a stuffy, overcrowded little family history center in your ward building and scrolled through microfiche or film that you had to send away to from Salt Lake, pay a few bucks for, and wait three weeks to show up–and hope that it had what you wanted.
I kept records by hand then–now I downloaded (free) the new, swoopy, software that makes it extremely easy to keep very detailed and accurate records. This weekend, in the space of a few hours, I was able to look at (free, thanks to a two-week trial from www.ancestry.com) census records and trace a line back for three generations. I was also able to see the original ship manifests for several different ancestors who came to this country via Ellis Island (which in addition to raw numbers has all sorts of interesting tidbits such as physical descriptions, literacy level, language spoken, and occupation–not to mention whether they were anarchists or polygamists), as well as pictures of the ships. I was able to look at an image of the draft card that my great-great-grandfather filled out for World War I. I found myself tearing up frequently as I would see a signature in the hand of someone who was responsible for my curly hair or temperment.
In short, if you haven’t done any family history since Bill Clinton was inaugurated, you really should poke around online. It is–dare I say it?–fun.