PUNTA GORDA — It might have been a passing comment during Thanksgiving dinner. Something about your grandfather serving in World War I, or a small comment written on the back of an old photograph.
But it makes you wonder what your ancestors were like, how they lived.
The Military Heritage Museum has received numerous requests to help people decipher their families' histories. "Family stories are how most of this begins," said William Ferrigno, a volunteer at the museum.
Tuesday afternoon, the museum kicked off its new military family history program where residents can explore copious military records regarding their veteran ancestors.
The museum is using Fold3, by Ancestry, a collection of original military records including stories, photos and personal documents of men and women who served in the military. The online records go back as far as the Revolutionary War and a majority of these come from the U.S. National archives, the National Archives of the U.K. and other international records.
Staff will be available Tuesday afternoons in the museum's library to help residents explore their family history. Three computers will be available, and though walk-ins are welcome, it is best to schedule an appointment.
Here's how to get started:
1. Start compiling data to help your search
Finding an ancestor among hundreds of years of data can be difficult.
"Before hitting the keyboard, you have to know who you're looking for," Ferrigno said. "There's so much information out there."
This is why it helps to know as much specific detail about the person you're looking for.
Before starting your search, try to compile the full name, date and place of birth, date and place of death, spouse's name, where they lived, their father's name, the names of their children and other family names and relations.
If your ancestor was part of the military, find out the branch and unit, military specialty, where they enlisted, dates of service, honors or awards, serial number and if they were wounded or killed. This will make your search a lot easier and ensure who you're looking at is actually the person you're related to, instead of just someone with the same name.
2. Create a timeline
This will help keep all the information you gather organized and will help decipher if records actually match with the person you're trying to find.
For example, if you find a record that your great-grandparent enlisted in the Army the year he was supposed to be 7 years old, that record probably does not belong to your relative.
3. Begin your search
There are three avenues you can take when starting your genealogy journey. You can look online, which has an overwhelming amount of information. You can also look in published materials, which are great for this research, Ferrigno said. And you can also look in repositories, which can require a lot of paperwork.
"You have to have patience," Ferrigno said. "Genealogy can be the most frustrating detective work."
Some of these services, especially online ones, charge to look at their records. However, these databases will have an abundance of data, it's just a matter of sorting through it.
Ferrigno suggests looking at Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, the National Park Service which can give basic information on those who served and Cyndi's List, which is a list of genealogical resources on the Internet.
If you're looking for more recent relatives, Ferrigno warned that any military records within 62 years are not readily available. Additionally, records on current wars are not typically available to the general public.
The Military Heritage Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday at 900 W. Marion Ave., in Punta Gorda. Ferrigno will be in the museum's library Tuesday afternoons to assist those wanting to learn more about their history.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment to start your genealogy journey, call 941-575-9002 or visit www.militaryheritagemuseum.org.