Photo: Marcie Cheung

When I was newly engaged and busy planning our wedding, I needed another distraction to keep me from obsessing about all the details. My Aunt was really into genealogy and I realized that I didn’t know much about my Dad’s side of the family. She walked me through how to use Ancestry.com and I began my treasure hunt.

I started with my paternal Grandfather’s side of the family. He was 16th out of 17 children born to German-Russian immigrants. Their story is fascinating! They were born in small ethnically German villages in present-day Ukraine and then moved (or were sent to) Siberia where they had their first child. From there, they made the trek to Buenos Aires, Argentina to join a sibling for awhile and then had another child. Then, they worked their way through Mexico and earned enough for a boat trip to Canada, where they had planned on settling permanently. However, another sibling was ill in North Dakota, so the family relocated yet again to help with the farm.

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I was fortunate that the eldest sibling had written down the basic story of how she and her parents came to the U.S. but I still had so many questions. Through my research online, I was able to find a photo of him in The Seattle Times coming home from the Korean War. I brought this clipping to him and his face lit up and he told me all about what had happened moments before the photo was taken! At Christmas, we were talking about what life was like growing up with immigrant parents and he started speaking German. None of his children had ever heard him utter a word of German, so it caught the whole room by surprise! I got to spend a lot of time with my Grandfather asking him questions about what he remembered from his childhood, having him identify people in old photos, and telling me a bit about his parents. He never knew any family history past his parents, so it was a true honor to be able to present him with a book I pieced together highlighting his ancestors. He ended up passing away less than a year later, which makes me so thankful for the time we spent together reminiscing.

Through my research, I’m now really interested in visiting the villages in Ukraine where my Great-Grandparents were born and I’d like to go to Argentina to find out more about where they went and what they did when they got there. I’ve been inspired by the show Who Do You Think You Are and would love to do genealogy research in the actual places my ancestors lived.

The common theme amongst all the stories in our family is that hard work does pay off. Our family is full of determined people who have overcome quite a lot to make their mark on the world. The people who came before us play a big role in who we are today. I’m glad that I have a written account of many of these stories to show my children and hopefully their children.

How to Get Started:

Photos: Ask relatives for any family photos and make sure to clearly label the back of each photo in ink who the people are, when and where the photo was taken

Stories: Start with your own family stories and then start asking relatives about what they remember from their childhood and any family stories they remember hearing

Family Tree: Piece together a family tree from the information you get from relatives

Go Online: There are so many resources available online for doing genealogy. My favorite is Ancestry.com, but it’s expensive. Many states have digital archives with birth/death records that are helpful. Also Newspapers.com has an extensive collection of newspaper articles that include obituaries, birth announcements, engagement notices and more.

Visit a Genealogical Society: You can start with your local genealogical society and have them guide you on how to start your family genealogy. You can also email the genealogical societies in the towns/cities where your ancestors lived to see if they have any additional information

Write it Down: The most important thing is to keep a record of all the information you find. I plug everything into Ancestry.com with the end goal of printing a family history book. When I was newly engaged and busy planning our wedding, I needed another distraction to keep me from obsessing about all the details.

My Aunt was really into genealogy and I realized that I didn’t know much about my Dad’s side of the family. She walked me through how to use Ancestry.com and I began my treasure hunt. I started with my paternal Grandfather’s side of the family. He was 16th out of 17 children born to German-Russian immigrants. Their story is fascinating! They were born in small ethnically German villages in present-day Ukraine and then moved (or were sent to) Siberia where they had their first child. From there, they made the trek to Buenos Aires, Argentina to join a sibling for awhile and then had another child. Then, they worked their way through Mexico and earned enough for a boat trip to Canada, where they had planned on settling permanently. However, another sibling was ill in North Dakota, so the family relocated yet again to help with the farm.

When I was newly engaged and busy planning our wedding, I needed another distraction to keep me from obsessing about all the details. My Aunt was really into genealogy and I realized that I didn’t know much about my Dad’s side of the family. She walked me through how to use Ancestry.com and I began my treasure hunt. I started with my paternal Grandfather’s side of the family. He was 16th out of 17 children born to German-Russian immigrants. Their story is fascinating! They were born in small ethnically German villages in present-day Ukraine and then moved (or were sent to) Siberia where they had their first child. From there, they made the trek to Buenos Aires, Argentina to join a sibling for awhile and then had another child. Then, they worked their way through Mexico and earned enough for a boat trip to Canada, where they had planned on settling permanently. However, another sibling was ill in North Dakota, so the family relocated yet again to help with the farm. 

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