My husband is really into genealogy. The history of his family in the New World goes back pretty far, as he had ancestors chasing the Mayflower across the Atlantic. They landed at Plymouth Mass about 2 or 3 years after the Pilgrims. Which I suppose showed good judgment on their part - they missed that really bad first winter. And then proceeded to criss-cross the US in the following centuries. There's even one great-great-etc-grandmother who knew Abraham Lincoln when she was a girl, and traveled from Illinois to Oregon in a covered wagon as a teenager. He's got ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, and in the Civil War, on both the North and South sides.
So how did he find all this out? Some of it came from a scrapbook of obituaries kept by his grandmother and great-grandmother. Which sounds macabre, I know, but in genealogical terms, a scrapbook of obits is pure gold. The rest he searched out online on various genealogical websites.
Lately he's been expanding his family history back to Europe. Ancestry.com is a fantastic ancestry website that allows you to search a gazillion documents, and hook up with other people searching out their family histories. Some of these people turned out to be my husband's distant cousins! So when they all hooked up their family trees, my husband was able to trace his ancestors back to 1600s England and--surprise!--Holland. Really cool. Maybe someday when we're retired we'll go to England and dig some more. All the way back to 1066? Who knows :-)
Compared to my dear husband, my own ancestry in America is a babe-in-the-woods. Both my maternal grandparents, and my paternal grandfather and my father, emigrated from Italy in the first quarter of the 20th century. I know my mother's family were farmers from Calabria, and my father's family stone masons from Molise, but don't know any names of any ancestors past the late 1800s.
But it's been fun searching their record on the Ellis Island website (ellisisland.org) and on the 1920 and 1930 census records on ancestry.com. On EllisIsland.org, I've found the original ships manifests for my ancestors' voyages to America, and can read where they came from, where they were going, how tall they were and how much money they had in their pockets. The census records show where they lived, who was in the household, and who their neighbors were.
So...Happy Thanksgiving, with a special thanks to all the people who came before us.
Anyone else out there have some family history to share?