Growing up, I had wonderful relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But I wasn’t really interested in family members I hardly knew or had never met.

The older I get, though, the more I’m convinced that family is everything — even those we never got to know because they were born 70 or 80 years before us.

Or 200 years. Or 300.

In other words, I’ve gotten the family history bug.

Once known as “genealogy,” family history today is so much more. With entire libraries at our fingertips, we’re no longer limited to finding out who our ancestors were and when they lived and died. Now we can learn their stories, too.

Of course, simply filling out a pedigree chart with names and dates can be a fascinating experience, not to mention the best place to start. And once you’ve done that much, chances are you’ll be good and hooked.

If the idea of family history intrigues you, but you find the prospect daunting, or if you’ve gotten started but aren’t sure what to do next, take heart. Incredible resources abound.

One is the family history libraries maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons. These are free and open to the public, staffed by knowledgeable genealogists, and not used for proselyting.

Gwinnett County has two such libraries that I know of, one on Suwanee Dam Road near North Gwinnett High School and the other at Sugarloaf Parkway and Five Forks Trickum. Hours vary, but you can probably look them up online.

Another incredible resource is the Family Search app, which you can download on your phone. Start by filling in your pedigree chart with what you know about your parents and grandparents and watch it grow as the program fills in additional information.

One really cool feature allows you to find relatives in your immediate vicinity. They just have to have the app open. We tried this with our “Empty Nesters” dinner group a couple weeks ago. Turns out I was ninth or 10th cousins with almost everyone in the room.

However, your best resources by far are your own family members, especially older ones who knew people you didn’t, like your great grandparents. You may even discover that some of those family members have been doing family history research for years.

I’m fortunate to have an aunt on my father’s side who has traced our line all the way back to Plymouth Rock and a not-too-distant cousin who has done much the same on my mother’s side.

I hope both those ladies are around for a long, long time, but I’m not taking any chances. I’ve already been corresponding with them, and we’re making plans to get together in the near future.

Like I said, there’s nothing like getting to know your family — both the ones who are still here and the ones who aren’t.

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Rob Jenkins is a local writer and college professor. The views expressed here are his own. You can email Rob at rob.jenkins@outlook.com.

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