Hobby traces roots of popularity to 'Roots'

2011-08-14T00:00:00Z 2011-08-14T23:40:07Z Hobby traces roots of popularity to 'Roots'By Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

Tracing the family roots became a popular pastime decades ago following the broadcast of the TV miniseries "Roots," but it has really taken off with the advent of Internet sites such as ancestry.com and familysearch.org.

Susan Killin, genealogy librarian for the Lake County Public Library, said it has become the third biggest hobby in America, and she sees about a dozen people a day researching their roots. Killin receives calls daily for obituaries and takes about four appointments a month with people seeking in-depth help looking into their family history.

"It's one of our busier services," Killin said. "It's been increasing gradually, and we promoted it. We've done articles and programming, and we have a blog. We have a library edition of ancestry with over 4,000 databases and all the censuses from the U.S. and other countries. We have access to county histories and genealogy association newsletters.

"If you've been in the country since at least the Civil War, we can get you back pretty far," she said. "Before the Civil War, someone might have done research on the pioneers of that era that we can find."

The Valparaiso Public Library's genealogy department is considered one of the top in the state, and its director, Larry Clark, said a lot of people from other states visit in the summer. While most are interested simply in knowing who their ancestors are, others need to know for medical reasons or to find the age of a house.

"It's always been a steady thing, but we have waves of greater interest," Clark said. "It's kind of a normal, steady wave now. We get jammed at times with a dozen or so, and we can even get more with a group coming in, like the scouts, or after a genealogy class.

"We have occasional classes in it showing what they need to do to get the information," he said. "A lot of time people don't know we exist or think we only have information on Northwest Indiana, but we have it for all over the world. The Mormons let us borrow their records. Our collection has more information than any other in the world."

Killin and Clark said part of the hobby's allure is that it is like being a detective and solving a mystery.

"They get all bright-eyed and say, 'Found them,' or ask for help to find more," Lake County library's Killin said.

She said one man wanted to find out if an aunt was still alive. He found her name on a passenger list going to Japan and eventually discovered she was living in California, where he was able to contact her.

The two libraries have access to information from many sources, and more is becoming easily accessible almost daily through the Internet. The most important source?

"Genealogy begins at home with those still living," Killin said.

"Genealogy starts with what you know and you work backwards from there," Clark added.

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