If you like being a sleuth, you’ll love genealogy.
“If you are at all curious about your past or your family’s past, you will love genealogy. If you like history, you will love genealogy. If you are interested in family stories, you will love genealogy,” said Kathy Kessels, executive secretary of the Looking Glass Genealogy Group at Latzer Library in Highland.
The Looking Glass Genealogy Group formed about 15 years ago. It all started when two people doing research at the library began talking about their respective families.
“After meeting a few times in the (Everett Genealogy Room), they found out that they were distant cousins and couldn’t wait to tell me of their family connection,” Kessels said. “I sat down and talked to them about possibly forming a genealogy group, and they were all for it. This is, simply put, how the group got started and pretty much how I got started in the hobby.”
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The group, which now has about 18 active members, does not charge any dues or fees.
“Most people that are involved in genealogy are older and on fixed incomes, thus we do not charge to be in the group,” Kessels said.
The mission is to help people get started in genealogy — and to do it the right way.
“We have people in the group that have been researching their family trees for over 50 years, and from this experience, they know what they are doing and share their knowledge with the rest of the group,” Kessels said.
The group held its first-ever Genealogy Fair on April 9 to introduce people to genealogy and the correct way to go about it. About 50 people signed up for the fair, and they learned a lot, including that doing genealogy “the right way” is not easy.
“Some think that what ‘Uncle Harry told us about Grandpa Jack’ is gospel, and we should not have to prove that. Genealogy has a process: you find the information, you write it down, then you need to verify it with two to three more documents or pieces of in formation. You should not accept anything as fact until you do this,” Kessels said.
It may seem like hard work. And it can be. But that extra digging can also be addictive fun.
“You are a detective, and a detective does not just assume something happened a certain way until he knows all the facts. Some people are just not willing to do all that, and others — well, we just can’t get enough of it,” Kessels said.
“Genealogy without documentation is mythology,” said Kristi AuBuchon, a professional genealogist from Breese, who has done work for more than 100 clients in the last 13 years, in addition to work on her own family.
“I did my family and then I started working on my mother-in-law’s family, and that’s when I realized I could do this for everybody,” AuBuchon said.
One of the first things new researches need to realize is that some sources you might think of as beyond reproach may not be, AuBuchon said. Tombstones are a good example.
“A lot of times, tombstones are not put up until years and years after the person died,” AuBuchon said.
That could mean, though it is carved in stone, dates may be wrong.
“Years down the road, nobody knows that mistake was made,” AuBuchon said.
And for the genealogist, that means you need to find another source to verify what that stone says.
“You have to have more than one source that proves a ‘fact,’ ” AuBuchon said. “And even then, that ‘fact’ might be wrong.”
There are many types of sources out there: birth certificates, death certificates, a marriage license, church records, newspaper clippings, census information. This list goes on and on.
However, there are two levels of sourcing when it comes to genealogy — primary and secondary.
“It would depend on what fact you were trying to prove,” AuBuchon said.
A primary source for a birth date, for instance, would be a birth certificate or baptismal record.
“You have to go back to the closest source to the event,” AuBuchon said.
A secondary source for a birth date would be a death certificate or an obituary from the newspaper, or that tombstone.
Some documents, like census records, could be a primary source for one bit of information, but secondary for another.
“There’s lots of pros and cons with census records. The best part about census records is that it gives you family members’ locations and the year. The names, ages and spellings are not always correct, but it gives you an approximate thing,” AuBuchon said.
There are many “brick walls” one can run into when researching family history, AuBuchon said.
One of the most common is the way a name is spelled now may not be the same as it was in the past.
“It could be completely spelled wrong,” AuBuchon said. “It could be completely different, so a search wouldn’t turn it up.”
Or, the spelling has changed.
“A lot of names were changed at Ellis Island. A lot (of people) wanted to be more ‘American,’ so they changed their name,” AuBuchon said.
Sometimes the change was not purposeful. Names were simply just transcribed wrong.
An undocumented move can also throw a wrench into research.
“It could be like someone moved out West in between census years. If you didn’t know they moved or where they moved to, then it’s hard to find them,” AuBuchon said.
Sometimes, records simply do not exist.
“There’s a problem, especially in the South, where during the Civil War, a lot of records were burned. So, there is no documentation,” AuBuchon said.
Using the Internet
There are many online resources available for genealogy research. Some are free. Some require payment.
The most widely known website is Ancestry.com, a pay site.
“If you know what you are looking for, but you don’t know where to look for it, it helps you find things,” Karen Mason, a Looking Glass Genealogy Group member, said of Ancestry.com.
But while the web is a good place to start, it does not hold all the information that’s out there.
“It’s kind of like a library, but not everything is in that library,” Mason said.
And the same rules apply to computer research when it comes to documentation.
“You can’t always take everything on Ancestry as gospel,” Mason said.
Such websites can be a good way to easily access primary sources, such as birth certificates. However, you can also find things like family trees, which may have been created by some other amateur genealogist. They may or may not be correct. That’s why you need to document your sources.
“Source citation, source citation, source citation. That’s the biggest hint I can give you,” Mason said. “That’s the biggest mistake I made when I started. You find something, and you are so excited. You just grab all this information, and then you don’t know where it came from.”
In addition to informational websites, there are also apps, such as Evernote, that can help you organize, Mason said.
“It’s like a research assistant,” she said.
Webinars can also be a good teaching tool. Some are free. Some cost, or you have to belong to the group that is hosting the session, but Mason said, they are a good way to learn on your own time.
“I can start one while I’m doing dishes, while I’m folding socks, and I’m always learning,” she said.
It’s important to be organized, but there is no right or wrong way to do it.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Everyone has a different way of doing a jigsaw puzzle. Same way in genealogy. You have to find out what’s best for you,” said Mary Rottmann of Highland, another member of the Looking Glass Genealogy Group.
Rottmann said she has found three-ring binders and page protectors to be her “best friends” when it comes to her own organization. She puts each family division into its own binder, to keep the size manageable.
She also advises against keeping original documents with working files. Original documents should be kept in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box, she said.
“And don’t paste artifacts onto scrapbook paper in any way, because you can’t get them off,” she said. “You have to make them accessible. That’s why page protectors are so important.”
Having electronic and hard copy files is also a good idea.
“One, you have a backup. And, two, sometimes it’s easier to flip through a binder, rather than find where it’s at on the computer,” Rottmann said.
Becky Wheeler, another Looking Glass member who has put together many photo albums, said you can group pictures however you like, according to family, or subject, etc. (She has one album with all the family cats in a group.)
However, she advises using chronology when doing layout.
“Put them in order,” she said.
Lynn Haller has been interested in old photos since she was a child.
“My grandpa — when I was 10 years old — he would tell me stories, and we would look at all the old pictures,” she said.
Haller, another member of the Looking Glass Genealogy Group, has taken that interest and become an expert on identifying previously unknown people in old photographs.
“I get lost in it,” she said. “I love to do old pictures.”
Haller said a good place to start in such a quest is figuring out who the photographer was. Many times it’s stamped on old photos. If you know who took the picture, you can often figure out a time period. (Haller has documented a list of photographers who worked in Highland from 1847-1950.)
You can also date a picture from what type of photo it is. For example, a daguerreotype photo would date from around 1839-1865; ambrotype, 1854-1860; tintype, 1865-1920; Carte-de-Viste, 1869-1890; cabinent card, 1866-1890; stereograph card, 1855-1900.
Once you have a time period, you can start looking for clues in the photo itself.
“If you don’t know who the person is, you look for facial recognition. You look for types of clothing they have on,” Haller said.
People from the same family often share similar facial features. Clothing can give away an occupation.
Buildings in the background or jewelry can also be clues.
“It’s detective work,” Haller said.
Haller was able to identify a photo of her husband’s great-great-grandfather, because she knew he had a scar on his face, which he received fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.
“You have to look for the little things,” she said.
Resources at Latzer Library in Highland
Everett Genealogy Room: Latzer Library subscribes to both Heritagequest.com and Ancestry.com. Also available for use in the genealogy room are two microfilm reader printers, one of which is a brand new Scan Pro 1100. With this technology, old microfilm can be searched and the articles, photos, or information that is found can be printed, emailed, or saved to an external device or disc through the computer that runs the reader. Microfilm dating back to 1860 is available, some of which is in German.
Looking Glass Genealogy Group: The Looking Glass Genealogy Group meets the third Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. in the Everett Genealogy Room at Latzer Library. Resources, tips, and ideas are shared to assist with family history and genealogy research. Guest speakers and field trips are also occasionally planned. Kathy Kessels, executive secretary, has been leading this group for over a decade now and has extensive knowledge of genealogy research, as well as maintaining the large collection of rare local history items in the library’s collection. If you are new to genealogy and plan to attend a meeting, it’s asked that you call Kessels ahead of time, and group members will tailor the meeting to help you.
Library hours are Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For additional information, call 654-5066 or go to www. highlandillibrary.org.
Top 10 Genealogy Websites
1 ancestry.com (pay)
2 findagrave.com (free)
3 familysearch.org (free)
4 myheritage.com (pay)
5 ancestry.co.uk (pay)
6 geni.com (pay)
7 geneanet.org (pay)
8 newspapers.com (pay)
9 ancestry.com.au (pay)
10 findmypast.co.uk (pay)
Source: GenealogyInTime Magazine