Mapping Out The Past

Mapping Out The Past

Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.
Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.
Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.

Explore your family tree with a genealogical adventure.

When Margaret Cheney of Elyria began her genealogical journey, she said it took her to amazing places.

“I learned that my father’s ancestors, from both his ­father and mother, had settled in Jefferson County, Ohio, as early as 1795,” she says.“One side came from New Jersey with 12 children, and the other side came from the Philadelphia area with 12 children. The children of these two families soon started marrying each other. My grandparents always said they were fifth or sixth cousins, but it turned out they were third cousins. It became an interesting puzzle to put together.”

Cheney, who is now the president of the Ohio Genealogical Society, is not alone mapping out her family’s history. More people around the region and the U.S. are exploring their heritage — for a variety of reasons.

“Yes, I do think there’s more of an interest in the past,” Cheney says, adding television shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” on The Learning Channel and PBS’s ­“Genealogy Roadshow” may have an influence.

While it can seem like a daunting task to dig into records during a time where technology wasn’t as abundant as today — it can be done.

“A journey to the past always starts with yourself,” Cheney says. “You gather as much information as you can on your ancestors and relatives. You have to start with what you know and work backwards, to get a clearer of idea on where you start looking.”

This can be accomplished by simply talking to your loved ones.

“We all like to hear stories, and stories of our own families are always important,” Cheney says. “In today’s society, we also have the means to record our stories in many different formats.”

Armed with the stories or photos from the past, you can start to fill in the blanks. There might be a question you found that needs an answer or there’s a family member you want to get to know, or you could be interested in the overall family history.

“To understand the past, is to understand the future, “ Cheney says. “If we know where we came from, it helps us know where we are going.”

There are different ways to begin looking into the past, such as at your local libraries.

“Libraries may hold written family histories or other information that relates to your family,” Cheney says. “Some of the smaller historical museums hold a wealth of information and artifacts.”

She notes old newspapers also may hold keys to family history as the community columns provide information from who had the mumps to first-car purchases.

It may be easier to search the past using the Internet, as many websites, along with phone apps, are dedicated to genealogy research — from creating a family tree to finding a grave site.

Cheney suggests sites such as, a free site that finds groups by surnames and locations. Look to for old newspapers. She also notes the U.S. Census Bureau’s records provide a wealth of information for researchers. The only census missing is from 1890, due to a fire that destroyed much of the data.

The Ohio Genealogical Society, is a resource that has ­chapters across the state.

There are also many different ­genealogy events held in the area. Many can be found through the Cleveland District Round Table, which is a discussion group of the leadership of the genealogical ­societies in a five-county district that includes Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina.

“The search for our ancestors is a fascinating journey to the past,” ­Cheney says. “We may not have all had famous ancestors, but they all contributed in some way to society and their communities. Once you start the journey, it is always full of ­adventure.”

Here are some helpful sites to help with a genealogy search:

About the author

Angela Gartner has been the editor at Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine since 2014. She has won local and national awards for her features, columns and photography over the years. Previously, her work appeared in publications including The News-Herald, Sun Newspapers and The Chicago Tribune. She grew up in Northeast Ohio and is a mom of two boys. The whole family is busy every weekend with sports and finding new happenings around the region. She is also a board member and past president at the Cleveland Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She loves reading, writing poetry and taking the family's Scottish Terrier on walks.

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