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ThinkstockPhotos-178534881“What an amazing gift to send my daughter off to college with – her family history!”

My oldest daughter was going off to college just a little after my mother’s passing. It was an emotional time for us all. It was my daughter’s first time leaving the house and the family for an extended period, and she was going so far away! We were also coming to terms with losing my mother, her grandmother, a strong fixture in our lives and the last living matriarch of the family.
We found ourselves talking a lot about my mother and to my surprise my daughter wanted to delve deeply into this idea of family and what it means to us. We had some really special conversations about our relationship as mother and daughter. It was new, and nice, to talk to her on that level. I realized that my baby was grown up — a true adult.

I shared stories with her about my mother, and what it was like to grow up in her home. There were so many stories, mostly good, and some… well, let’s face it. Every family has its skeletons in the closet. She listened, asked questions, laughed, and cried along with me. Mostly, she soaked it up. Hearing about her grandmother and family in a whole new way captivated her. I realized how important it was for her to hear, and most surprisingly: to realize that I’d never heard those stories from my parents. They had always been reserved about their past.

This got me curious about my ancestors, and what their lives were like. What traits had I inherited from them? What traits had my daughter inherited from them?

Unexpected Discoveries

I wanted to discover more about our family’s past. I went onto, where I started a family tree. Almost instantly, I received a notification of a match between my tree and someone else’s and the system added 52 people to my tree in one click. I discovered new cousins that I didn’t know existed! Over the next few weeks I began to connect with my newfound cousins and we researched the extended family together. Through these connections and’s search tools, I uncovered historical records and old family letters.

In reading my ancestors’ correspondence — hearing about their lives in their own words — I uncovered an amazing story of courage. Many had immigrated to the United States under unthinkable conditions. They held on to their past and memories of home but were committed to educating themselves and building a better life for their families. Slowly, as I grew my family tree and travelled back in time, the black and white photographs began to come to life.

The real life-changing discovery for me was an old photo I found on a cousin’s family tree. The photo was of my maternal grandfather taken in front of his barber shop right before he immigrated to America. You can just see the hope on his youthful face. This window into my direct ancestral past is something I didn’t have before that I can now treasure and preserve for future generations.

I decided that I would present my daughter with her family history as a present to cherish when she left for college. Since I knew I couldn’t go with her (even though I threatened to!), a connection to our shared past as a family would be the next best thing. I bought her her own membership so we could continue the discoveries together and maintain that connection from afar.

I know that my daughter is grown up, working towards her future. But I also know that she’ll always feel connected to our family and the deep roots that we’ve uncovered.

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By Marilyn Dempsy, as told to MyHeritage, a leading website for discovering, preserving, and sharing family history.


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I Gave My Daugher This Gift for College – and It Changed Our Lives was last modified: by

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