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Tired Of Talking Politics Over Turkey? Try Discussing Your Family's History

Ambriehl Crutchfield
Library Programmer Krysta Wilham and Community Member Cassie Schball review census documents.

Some people want to avoid talking about politics while they load their Thanksgiving plates this Thursday. In need of another conversation starter? Try your family's history. Doing so can open up a world of information.

If you want to start filling in your family tree, knowing the name and birthday of a family member from an older generation can make it easier. Then, head over to a library.

People often go to Kenton County's Public Library looking to find out who and where they come from.

Cassie Schball recently went to the Covington branch to track one of her ancestors who migrated from Ireland. In a hour, she had fulfilled the quest and figured out her family came from Cork.

"It's really cool," she says. "I want to go there and see these places." Schball says she wants to talk to her grandmother about her findings.

Credit Ambriehl Crutchfield
Ambriehl Crutchfield
Krysta Wilham and Cassie Schball review census data at Kenton County's Covington branch.

Librarians encourage people to learn and document their family history but warn it isn't always a quick find like Schball's.

Krysta Wilham works in the genealogy department at the Covington branch. She says different ethnic groups can face roadblocks trying to figure out their lineage, but it isn't impossible.

Wilham's family left Ireland around the time of the famine. "For some reason, Ireland, their government decided they didn't need to keep certain records after so long," she says. "They destroyed them. So, it's harder for me to find my ancestors because I don't think the research exists anymore."

Wilham says older census records tracked African American enslaved people more like inventory and so records would only show tally marks of how many men, women and children an enslaver "owned."

You can use census data, draft cards and marriage certificates to paint a fuller picture of your family, but the intimate details about who your ancestors were is something those documents don't capture. That's where talking to family helps. 

And if your niece starts live-tweeting the conversation happening at the Thanksgiving table? Don't chastise her. 

People who share what they're reading, eating or randomly thinking to social media may be preserving those details, giving future generations a fuller picture of who they were.

"More and more we're finding documents are being digitized," Wilham says. "But not everything is. I think that is the direction we are going."

Wilham says more digitization will increase access.

For now, librarians - not social media - are what's on hand helping people track down relatives.