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What Were Your Family's Firsts?

What Were Your Family's Firsts?

Every once in a while, I see an article or social media post that acknowledges a "first." Usually along the line of “the first woman to go to the moon,” these posts are educational and celebratory (though sometimes we may question why that "achievement" took so long).

Thinking about those types of acknowledgments made me wonder about family history firsts. What did your ancestor do that was a “first” for the family?

What family members had a “first?” These might be huge, maybe even award-winning, accomplishments or they can simply be activities that today seem run-of-the-mill but are still a “first.”

You probably have some “firsts” that you have personally achieved. Maybe like me, you’re the first person in your family to graduate from college. Perhaps you're the first person to become a US citizen. But what about previous generations? What firsts did your ancestors accomplish?

It can be difficult to decide what to write about our ancestors. How do you tell their story so it goes beyond just name, date, and place? What about telling the story of your family firsts? This writing prompt could help you enhance a family story that will interest the non-genealogists in the family.

What are some ideas for “family firsts” you could write about? Here are a few that I came up with:


  • First person to graduate from high school
  • First person to graduate from college
  • First person to earn a graduate degree


  • First person to ride in a car
  • First person to own a car
  • First person to fly in an airplane
  • First person to take an ocean voyage
  • First person to ride a motorcycle
  • First person to ride a bicycle


  • First person to work in a specific occupation
  • First person to join a labor union


  • First person to own a house
  • First person to own a radio
  • First person to own a TV
  • First person to have electric lights
  • First person to move off the farm


  • First person to serve in the military
  • First person to serve during wartime
  • First person to serve overseas


  • First person to cross the United States
  • First person to travel outside the country (maybe for vacation or immigration)
  • First person to document a vacation (photographs, correspondence, diary)


  • First person to have twins
  • First person to divorce
  • First person to marry multiple times
  • First person to be born in a hospital


  • First person you researched
  • First new-to-you cousin you met
  • First major discovery
  • First mystery you solved

In thinking about your family firsts there are so many ways you could use this idea to enhance your research and writing. As I wrote this, I realized I need to write about my first ancestor who fought in a war and continue that story through my other direct line ancestors who served in the military since then, from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. That narrative would start with my “first,” my sixth great grandfather Benjamin Jones and would end with the last soldier in my family tree, my dad.

And obviously, these firsts you write about can include yourself (you might one day be an ancestor) as well as your ancestors.

What are your family firsts? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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Education transforms. It was through education that several of my family went first.

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