Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Family Tree

Today's writing prompt from BlogHer asks if I am interested in genealogy (YES!) and if I have a family tree constructed (YES!). As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I first got involved in genealogy back in 1989. My mom and dad had stopped by our house on their drive from Cincinnati to Boulder to see my brother. My mom handed me a hand-written family tree on her side of the family, put together by one of my cousins. We talked briefly about the tree, and I set it to the side. On their way back from Colorado my folks were involved in a horrific car accident in the middle of Kansas. My mom was killed instantly and my dad was taken to a hospital in Hays, Kansas in critical condition. My mom was only 69 years old at the time. I was 32, and thought I would have much more time with my beloved mother.

Months later I pulled out the family tree and I recognized for perhaps the first time that my older family members would not be around forever. So I began asking questions about my grandparents and their siblings, finally enjoying the stories being told instead of rolling my eyes as I had done when I was younger. As my tree began to grow, so did the pile of notes and papers I was collecting. I needed a better way to organize my research.

At the time I had a Macintosh computer, and the only family tree software available for a Mac was Personal Ancestral File (PAF). This was a program developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was first released for the Macintosh in 1987. It wasn't a very intuitive program, and since there were not too many people using Macs at that time I did not have other people I could talk to about using the program. But I muddled through and was able to get my family information from numerous pieces of paper into a database. The most blessed part of genealogy programs is that you can export your information in what is called a GEDCOM format, which simply stated means that you can take it from one type of software and import it into another. Even if that means going from a Mac to a PC, which is what I eventually did.

The limitations of PAF forced me into looking at other genealogy software programs in the late 1990s. By then I was predominantly using a PC and most genealogists I knew were using PC-based software programs. After looking at my options I went with Family Tree Maker as it seemed to have many features that I would utilize. And the current version of the software neatly integrates with online tree I have been adding to through my subscription to Any changes I make on either my desktop tree or my online tree will synchronize at the push of a button. This was a huge selling point in getting me to upgrade my Family Tree software in 2012. Before if I made a change in one location I always had to remember to go and make the change in the other. I currently have over 2,400 people in my tree (which does include my husband's family as well, I should point out), so keeping track of all the names on paper alone would be a nightmare.

Becoming interested in genealogy began through a tragic event in my family. But it has ended in a love and appreciation of family history, and an enjoyable hobby to boot.


Anonymous said...

A very moving story: through personal tragedy, you transformed what your mother gave you in a long lasting passion and endeavor. I am very impressed.

Kim Wolterman said...

Thank you otir. It is sad that sometimes it takes a tragedy to move us into action. But at least it got me there, right?

Mrs. Wryly said...

Wow, Kim, I did not know the connection between your dear mother's death and your love of genealogy. A goose-bumpy moment. From above, she is so proud that you are interested in your family and in keeping the ties connected. I admire you for that, too!