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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.

Ambassador Lloyd Carpenter Griscom
-First to fly: Flight with Wilbur Wright, on 24 Apr 1909, in Centocelle Field, Rome. Italy
-First Ambassador: Brazil and Italy.
-First to be Knighted: London, June 28, 1919.-King George summoned Colonel Lloyd Griscom, former American ambassador to Italy, to Buckingham Palace and conferred on him the honor of a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
-US Minister to Persia and Japan

In 1783, my 5th great-grandfather (Rev. Francis Clark; d. 1799) organized the first Methodist "society" in Kentucky ... so he's known as the first Methodist preacher in the state.

My Dad, Capt Les Sears, Jr was first in his class at Harvard Business School- 1960

For the teaching of Thomas Shepard (b. nov 5 1605) his friend and fellow student at Cambridge UK Thomas Harvard, raised a subscription among fellow puritans in mass., to build him a school - which has done rather well ever since... Some of the Sheppard family from whom I'm descended lived in the same tiny village of Duncote, Greens Norton, Towcester, Northamptonshire in England. But because they were, like Thomas, non-conformists, they were not buried nor their events recorded in local church records. I have though had the pleasure of meeting other Sheppards who had continued to live in Duncote and have received copies of photos of their local graves there that are now in private property. So I think my 'first' must be, like Thomas, my probable relationship with four US presidents; two Adams and the last being FDR. What fun!

First woman doctor in Georgia.

Our daughter was the first female in our family to be in the military. My military relatives go back to the revolutionary war; my gg-grandfathers and uncles in my heritage line. My g-grandfather in my maiden family line fought in the Civil War. My father fought in WWI. My two brothers fought in WWII. One in the Pacific Theater and one in the Atlantic Theater. The brother who fought in the Atlantic Theater was in the Unit that freed Daucau.

My Grandson and his wife are the first to have twins in our family.

My great-grandmother, Susie F. MacWilliams, was the first woman in Massachusetts, to be appointed as Clerk of Courts in 1928. As such she had to write out complaints, summonses, and search warrants, appear in court to swear in witnesses and announce decisions in criminal cases and keep papers in civil cases in order. She also was allowed to perform marriages. The Newburyport, Mass. mayor (where the court was held) didn't like the idea of a married woman being appointed (though she'd been the assistant clerk for at least 5 years and had held several other civic jobs in her 54 years), but the appointment was made by the governor, Alvin T, Fuller.

This may be a first in our family: Both my father and his father were born on Jan. 1. What's the odds of that happening?

I was told that my 4th Great-grandmother Mary Miranda White Rogers Rhoads was the first Morman settler to give birth to triplets in Utah.

My husband and I are the first husband and wife to win championships in NASCAR short track circle track auto racing in the same year. We now have grandchildren winning championships as 4th generation stock car drivers.

My Mother-in-law was raised in foster homes with a younger sister. Her Mom's story is still a mystery, but I found her maternal grandparents and some extended family. Through a DNA match, I discovered her brother had been married long enough to have children, and they in turn have children.

I am the first person in my family to become a Canadian citizen and to marry an Inuk from Northern Labrador

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