Researching family history has never been easier

December 18, 2009 7:06:24 PM PST
If you're getting together with family this holiday season, this may be a perfect time to begin gathering your family history. 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney says it's a gift that will last generations.

Tracing your family history has never been easier. The generations to come will be thankful if you do.

Mena Curci of San Bruno immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1968. Cooking delicious Italian meals is a way to remember her past.

"It brings back memories of my grandparents [and] my mother," she says.

The Curcis consider food a big part of their family and a big part of their Italian heritage.

"Food for us, or for me, I would say, or for our family, is really the main focus," says grandfather Franco Curci. "Everybody is always around the table."

Franco Curci documents those meals through his photographs. He wants his grandchildren Michael and Matteo to learn their family's history.

That is why his daughter Rossella put together a cookbook of family recipes woven with stories of Italian tradition and the Curcis' past.

"Like many first generation children, you grow up your entire life trying to fight your heritage because you want to assimilate, you want to be like everybody else," she says. "I wanted to be Jennifer, I wanted my name to be Jennifer my whole life."

But her culture became more important to her as she grew older and began raising children. She hired Seventh Generation Stories, a company which helps families document their histories through books, videos and audio recordings.

"My mom was the family historian and she tried for many years to tell me the family stories," explains Alli Joseph, founder of Seventh Generation Stories. "Unfortunately, I was younger and didn't pay attention."

Her mother's sudden death inspired her to launch her company which researches family histories or can produce a DVD or book from information the family has already gathered.

In the Bay Area, you can research much of that information for free at the National Archives in San Bruno.

"The U.S. Census records are available. Also, indexes to naturalizations, U.S. passenger lists from all of the big ports and a lot of the smaller ports, too. Plus Canadian and Mexican border crossings, passport applications, draft cards from World War I and World War II. Those are the big items," says William Greene, archivist for the National Archives.

The National Archives also features records from Asian immigrants who passed through Angel Island, maritime records, slave manifestos, homestead and mining records, and documents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

You never know what you might find. Tony Phillips of Sherman, Texas uncovered a deep family secret. His uncle was imprisoned on Alcatraz.

"Seeing the reality of my uncle Ennis, where he really indeed was a prisoner of Alcatraz, really kind of helped me understand how my grandparents acted and why my mother acted the way she did," said Phillips.

Free access to fee-based genealogy websites is also available at the National Archives for you to research your own family's history.

"We have to preserve this," says Franco Curci. "In order to pass it on to our future generation, our children, grandchildren."


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