Family Research

The writing of The Best Girl required me to research my dad’s family. I have very little memory of my paternal grandparents or my dad’s siblings and, after about age eight, we were almost completely estranged from them. This blog post summarizes how I went about assembling that part of my family history.

I started with a black and white photo of my dad and his family, taken in about 1939. In the picture, my dad (about age 14) is standing to the side, with a posture that leads one to believe he’s ready to flee at any moment. All ten of his siblings, save the youngest daughter, are standing. The women/girls are all smiling; the boys/men all have their heads down, arms folded.His parents, my grandparents, are seated in the front of the family. I had a list of names and dates of birth for each family member and so was able to label who was who in photo. I then purchased a ready-made family tree database from Roots Magic ( and entered in the basic informaion I had.

At this point, I discovered the Mormon genealogy registry, I learned that Mormons believe every person needs to be informed of the Mormon gospel, whether while still living, or after death  ( ).  Therefore, their publicly accessible database has links to U.S., Canadian and British census records, going all the way back to 1790. Mormons have this information stored in their Granite Mountain Records Vault in Salt Lake City, Utah – and electronically on In my case, I started by entering my grandfather’s name into the search field of the website. Instantly, I had his date of birth, date of death, a link to his parents, his marriage to my grandmother and a listing of each of their children. Within each person’s record, there were links to a variety of other pieces of information, such as an image of the actual handwritten census record, a newspaper obituary or a link to the cemetery they are buried in. Once done, I had mapped the Hicks side of my family to 1811. I then added each person into my Roots Magic database.

Researching my mom’s family was quite a bit easier as I had a lot of information at my fingertips. My mom kept excellent records, and a hand-drawn family tree traces her lineage to the 1700’s.

Once I felt I had completed the research, and had all the data entered into Roots Magic, I wrote two essays – one for my dad’s family, and one for my mom’s. These essays are stored in my writing archives and were a tremendous resource for me as I wrote the manuscript.

If you have an interest in researching your family history, I encourage you to check out the resources I’ve indicated. Please comment below if you have any other resources to add to my list!