RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Richmond's rich history lends itself to tracing back family lineages. We have the Library of Virginia which is the most searched archives in the entire country. Thousands of people come to Richmond each year to find their roots.
"People have a desire and people have a need to know about their genealogy. And so many people grow up and they don't know beyond their grandparents," said Brent Morgan.
Brent Morgan is a Vice President for the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia, also called GRIVA, an organization that encourages and teaches people to delve into their past. He says the internet is the best place to start.
"It's possible to do in hours or days what would take weeks," said Bruce Strong.
And sometimes all it takes is an old family heirloom. Two mysterious portraits got Bruce and Mary Strong in the hunt.
"I grew up with these two paintings, always wondering who they were," said Mary.
All she had were the dates they were painted - nothing more to go on. But a search on line led them to Orange County, Virginia.
"We were able to walk that back to Mary's great, great, great, great, grandfather who was a revolutionary war personality. William Trenton Webb," said Bruce.
Mary was eventually even able to find a distant relatives tomb.
"I really felt an attachment there. I'd found something for our whole family about somebody's life," said Mary.
Tracing back your history can also lead to amazing finds. Clover Hill High School teacher Jim Triesler always knew he had a relative who fought in the Civil War, but through research he discovered that Robert Cottrill fought in the battle of New Market and was shot in the leg.
"Then he was sent as a prisoner to Richmond. And as I did a little more research I found that all of the West Virginia soldiers were given metals in the 1860's," said Triesler.
Cottrill never received his metal. Triesler was able to prove he was a direct descendant.
"His name is engraved on it, and his company," Triesler said. "We have this keepsake, this heirloom now that we can pass on from generation to generation."
Triesler is passing on the tradition of genealogy and historical research to high schoolers at Clover Hill.
"Just think, if can't name any of your great grandparents in just three generations you're going to be forgotten too," he said.
Something Clover Hill High School student Asya Simons learned during a class project.
"He always started out saying my dearest darling wife," Simmons said.
She typed up more than 300 letters written by a soldier during World War Two. Simmons says the class taught her it's more important than ever to keep a journal.
"In today's world we're so technology oriented, everything is email or digitally kept, but those won't keep. And then there will be nothing left of us," said Simmons.
They say the past can open eyes and change the path of futures.
Who do you think you are? And how do you begin? The Library of Virginia is a place to start and it has one of the best websites for genealogical research in the country. GRIVA also offers classes in the area.
And you don't always have to leave home to look. You can search for free online.
Please share with us your comments and experiences with genealogical research.