I’m certain you’ve read that older members of a family typically take the most interest in geneolgy. I’ve lived up to that stereotype — I’m the oldest of seven — living proof that the theory must be correct.
For most of my life I’ve interviewed my grandparents and their children to ascertain where we came from and who we are. Nearly 30-years ago I recorded a conversation with my paternal grandmother. She spoke of horse-drawn wagons, train trips to the big city and life before we all got so obsessed with the hustle and bustle of today.
For several years my aunt has regaled me with ancestral stories that for me were new, funny and yes even sad. She’s also shared numerous photos of her parents, her siblings, her aunts and uncles and others that my generation had never seen.
These experiences have stoked my desire to discover more. Generally I don’t enjoy puzzles, but its been satisfying to piece together my past. Fortunately there are numerous tools available to anyone willing to make the effort to go “back in time”.
My first outside the family experience was with ancestory.com a search- engine capable of sucking up a lot of time and money. The site provides free access for trial period: this simply whets your whistle — you really crave more.
With the limited information I obtained I ventured over to our state historical society to determine if their resources could aid my cause. Fortunately for me there was a library — free to the public that maintains a virtual mountain of information. I got access to a variety of newspapers from around the state, as well as, birth, death and other key records. Reading the articles and seeing ads about family that resided in big towns and country burgs was very entertaining.
Recently, I attended a half-day genealogical conference sponsored by the Hennepin County Library. Imagine listening to experts who’ve written tomes about their research. I also learned a lot by by visiting the dozen or so tables being manned by country specific “experts”. These folks were knowledgeable about immigrants and the whole immigration process going back to colonial times. My past visits to Ireland, France, Germany and Switzerland lacked the depth of understanding if I’d had even an ounce of the knowledge shared that day.
Most people know of the tremendous genealogical library owned and managed by the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City? This institution is considered to be the premier repository for genealogy and the research of the same. The Church’s desire to obtain this information feeds their objective to tie all humans with their church-members and its free to use no matter your religious affiliation. Not sure when I’ll make it to that fount of wisdom.
Image my excitement when I recently visited the Midwest Genealogy Center located in Independence, MO. Experts rank it high on the best list of places for genealogical study. My excitement was palpable — really!
This free library is filled with unbelievable resources. Earlier in the day I’d been perusing their website which frankly gave me pause. The site seemed stuffy and very academic. For a few hours I was fearful they’d show me the door since I was not loaded down with documentation that they felt a user needed prior to a visit. I steeled myself and went anyway. I was relieved to learn that the website seemed to be more of a filter. I felt very welcomed and any snobbery I may have read into on their website failed to materialize.
I walked to the main information desk and was handed a folder of information including tools like blank family tree charts. The librarian asked a few discovery questions and then issued me a temporary library card with access codes for online sites including the library version of Ancestory.com. Then she directed me to a computer station which I commandeered for the remainder of the library’s operating hours.
After three hours of reading census data, birth and death certificates and naturalization docs I was getting rather buggy-eyed. So I went for a walk to stretch my legs. The stacks of books contained thousands of resource volumes — ship manifests for every nation’s that transported people to the USA; copies of marriage certificates, articles that describe where new citizens settled and for how long, etc. I was so blown away I momentarily felt overwhelmed — how could I ever complete my journey? I stumbled back to the work-station feeling short-changed by time. I needed more.
The clock said I had twenty minutes left before the library closed. With a quiet sigh I gathered my work papers and i-pad. Shoving everything into my backpack I vowed to come back. I also vowed to spend more time at my hometown library.
Waving goodbye to the librarians I glanced at those fellow time travelers that sat adjacent to me. I smiled and nodded — I was now part of their tribe. My mind was teeming with the names people I’d been studying and I craved to know more.
Crossing the cold and dark parking lot I felt a grin crease my face. I recalled the joy I get when I spend time talking about our family with my aunt. I was pleased that I was going to return home with new information she’d want to learn.
Then it dawned on me — perhaps I liked puzzles after all.