Follow the leaves.

By Betsy Cribb
Updated May 08, 2020
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grandfather farm
Credit: Courtesy of Betsy Cribb

It seems to me that some people were designed for life at home. In the past eight weeks, I’ve watched friends cultivate sourdough starters, needlepoint a tree’s worth of Christmas ornaments, and whip up batch after batch of beauty products made from all-natural ingredients. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people, prone to flying through books or binging Netflix docs instead. But on a rainy Sunday afternoon two weeks ago, desperate to do something that felt productive, I signed up for an Ancestry.com account. And if you’ve ever been curious about your own family history, you should too.

It’s fairly intuitive to use. Enter the information you do know, then follow the leaves or “hints,” as they call them, to find the information you don’t. With just a few clicks, I learned that my maternal grandmother was a member of her high school Ski Club, found a frame-worthy childhood photo of my paternal grandfather, and determined that my dad’s side of the tree probably isn’t the best place to search for baby name inspiration (we’ve got some wild ones over there). Thanks to the website’s collection of government records, yearbooks, and member uploads, I was able to confirm longstanding family hearsay too: One of our ancestors did, in fact, come to the U.S. on the Mayflower, and my dad wasn’t pulling my leg about his great uncle Deweylo (again, won’t be looking to that branch for baby name inspiration).

Beyond providing solo at-home entertainment, my Ancestry.com findings sparked warm conversations with cousins I hadn’t talked to in a while and yielded fun fodder for a phone call with my grandmother, who is currently home alone and missing her usually stacked lineup of daily visitors. An elementary school yearbook photo of my mom, complete with straight-across bangs and a smirk, found its way into our family group text and prompted memories of my own school photos with straight-across bangs. The apple never falls far.

What began as a rainy-day distraction quickly became a meaningful excuse for connection and a welcome reminder of those ties that bind, whether we’re together or apart.

A word to the wise: You do have to hand over a credit card number to create an account (even for the free trial), so if you don’t plan to browse Ancestry.com beyond the first two weeks, which are free, you may want to set a calendar reminder to cancel your account before you get charged. I failed to do this and now, for the cost of $40, have access to the gamut of Ancestry.com resources until June. I can’t say I’m disappointed though. There’s something kind of addicting about following those little green leaves!

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