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One of my most pressing questions when I first began my genealogy work was, Which side of my family would I start first. The answer to this for some people may be straightforward. Most will say start on the side with the older relatives since time is far more precious. You have to move with a sense of urgency to get interviews and stories while they are alive.

Andrea Fenise of In Search of Our Garden House sharing genealogy tips

I was faced with an interesting challenge when I began tracing my history. I spent far more time with my mom's side of the family, nearly day in and day out of my childhood, young adult, and adult life than my dad's side. Yet, I knew far less about my maternal lineage and genealogy. On the other hand, my dad's side of the family, I spent time with yet, yes, just not as much as my mom's and I knew far more about my paternal lineage than my maternal.

I began with both my mom's and dad's sides and then pivoted and started focusing on my paternal side. When I began searching for my family history, I only had one living grandparent and that's my maternal grandmother. However, due to her mother passing when she was only 9 years old, my grandmother had a very difficult time recalling or remembering anything about her mother let alone other relatives and the family's story. She could recall the area they were from and cousins but not details like her sharing a birthday with her mother.

Therefore, I turned to my dad's side. Both of my aunt's are still living and know a lot of the history. I decided to devote most of my time and concentrate my efforts on my two aunts who are still living and have great memory. Once they transition, all of the stories, memories, heirlooms, and pictures may get lost.

Andrea Fenise of In Search of Our Garden House sharing genealogy tips

What came of that? As I began to do oral interviews with my Aunt Stefy, and search in archives and records, she began to remember even more. I shared my efforts to trace our history and create a family archive with dad's oldest sister, my Aunt Elaine, as well. The gathering of stories and information followed. I began to make great strides rather quickly.

I don't know if this is a unique desire of mine but I wanted to search for my family history to uncover my purpose. I wholeheartedly believe that our connection to our ancestors is our chance to come home to ourselves and to complete a very specific task. My ancestors are deeply connected in my DNA and bloodline and so for me uncovering my ancestry meant knowing where I belong and the calling over me in regards to continuing a legacy. What followed was the ability to go deeper into my lineage to uncover my family's legacy, heal ancestral trauma, and much more.

I highly suggest that as you begin searching for your family gather the oral history and family records. Interview your living relatives, write down everything they tell you, and ask for heirlooms and pictures. After making progress on my own and searching personal archives and state archives, I still could not find pictures of my great great grandmother Mollie Harris who was a very prominent midwife in Memphis during the 30s and 40s.

My quest to find her was so strong because I have had many dreams about her, messages, and even preserved her voter registration but still had never seen what she looked like. A quick call to my Dad's oldest sister and after waiting for her to pull them from the archives, I finally laid my eyes on her. That's not it! Her husband, my great great grandfather Swift Harris, and all 11 of their children.

Andrea Fenise of In Search of Our Garden House sharing genealogy tips

There is no right or wrong answer. However, if your family history isn't well documented and you find yourself going back and forth, start on the side that has the oldest living relative. Interviews are extremely critical. Your living relatives can give you names, relationships, and stories that offer context, and even direction for collecting work that they have already gathered.



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