Genealogists should be mindful of big events that alter trajectories

040316 ROSWELL, GA: Names and dates line the voluminous records at the Church of Latter Day Saints Family History Center, where people come to research their family's genealogy. Family History Center at 500 Norcross Street in Roswell. For Helen Cauley feature on Geneaology - Family Trees. (Parker C. Smith/Special)
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040316 ROSWELL, GA: Names and dates line the voluminous records at the Church of Latter Day Saints Family History Center, where people come to research their family's genealogy. Family History Center at 500 Norcross Street in Roswell. For Helen Cauley feature on Geneaology - Family Trees. (Parker C. Smith/Special)

Credit: Special

The 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor brings into focus the impact the attack had on every American family. It changed the plans and trajectory of many futures.

What other events have had such a powerful impact? Wars from any era cause major disruptions, deaths, diseases and long-term effects. The Civil War devastated many households. The Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 wreaked havoc worldwide, and, without 24/7 communication like we have with today’s pandemic, one wonders how our ancestors coped. So what events changed your family’s path for good or bad? The death or incapacitation of the family breadwinner certainly would force major changes.

World War II letters surface

In genealogy, you always hope you’ll discover some long-lost document or family heirloom, though most people have no idea how to search for such things. The grandmother of writer Joel Chandler Harris had a family Bible that turned up in the 1990s among the belongings of the descendants of his aunt’s second husband, people who were not blood related to Harris. The Bible is now at Emory University.

A friend of mine whose father died in the D-Day invasion of 1944 just learned that letters her dad wrote to his mother, who died long ago, have surfaced. They were found among the papers kept by a family member, who recently moved. What an unexpected treasure, and something my friend had no clue still existed.

Holiday gifts for genealogists

If you have a genealogist in the family, some good holiday gift ideas include: subscriptions to a genealogy magazine, membership in a genealogical society or a genealogy database, or DNA tests. There are many discounts this season offered by the companies that do DNA testing. A gift that cost nothing is to actually ask the family genealogist to share some family stories with you, or his or her latest research finds.

Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., P. O. Box 901, Decatur, Ga., 30031, or www.kenthomasongenealogy.com.