Family Trees

No age limit in searching one's history

2013-02-11T00:00:00Z 2013-02-11T10:29:03Z No age limit in searching one's historyChristine Bryant Times Correspondent
February 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Family histories can be full of surprises, with mysteries and secrets that lay dormant for decades unlocked nowadays by the click of a mouse.

You're never too young to start exploring your family history, and several libraries in the region are reaching out to younger generations in an effort to connect them with their ancestors.

While researching your family's past can be an exciting adventure, it's easy to get lost in the thousands of documents that are now available online and at libraries.

Not sure where to begin? Here are some tips to help students get started in exploring their ancestry.

Start at home.

"That's what we always tell people beginning their search," said Larry Clark, head of the Genealogy Department at Porter County Public Library System.

Clark says your search must first start with interviewing family members and compiling as much information as possible about three basics - names, dates and locations.

Find out family members' married and maiden names; dates of births, deaths and other significant life events such as marriages; and locations where people have lived.

"The very first thing to do is to start with yourself and work backwards, then interview immediate relatives and establish relationships," said Cindy Childress, reference assistant at Crown Point Community Library. "Gather information such as full names, maiden names, birthdates, graduations and death dates."

Childress also recommends looking through old family photos and boxes stored in the attic, flipping through family Bibles and scrapbooks, and listening to family stories for clues.

Start a family chart.

Once you start compiling information, stay organized by starting a family tree or chart. Genealogy is a puzzle, so it's important to stay organized from the beginning.

"A pedigree chart or a family group sheet is a great way to keep track of the information," Childress said.

Create a spreadsheet or chart on your computer or ask a librarian if a pedigree book is available. Clark said Porter County libraries give researchers a book where they can keep track of their findings. Some online sites also allow users to download blank genealogy charts.

Focus your search.

If you're just starting out, right away you have the choice of tracing your mother's side of the family or your father's side. After that choice, you'll then need to choose whether to focus on your grandmother's side or your grandfather's side.

Experts recommend selecting a focus - choosing a specific ancestor or family line. The key is to choose a manageable project rather than get overwhelmed by all the information you're bound to gather.

Head to the library or the computer

Several websites such as allow you to access thousands of documents and databases full of public records that include military records and census information. Many of these websites, however, are pay-to-use sites, meaning there are monthly or yearly charges to access the information.

Several libraries, however, have memberships to these sites and allow visitors to use them for free.

"Local newspapers also are microfilmed and provide a wealth of information through obituaries, marriage and birth announcements, personal achievement recognitions, etc.," Childress said.

Clark said libraries may also have access to family histories that already have been published.

"A lot of times it's already been done for them," he said.

Libraries also may have access to other types of records that will provide clues to a family's lineage, including cemetery, church and out-of-state records.

The Porter County Public Library System's Genealogy Department has collected documents and other resources from regions local families have migrated from, including northeastern United States and parts of Canada.

Expect the unexpected

Clark said sometimes researchers find unexpected events that took place in their family's history. Other times, they never find proof of what they thought occurred.

"Don't get wrapped up in family legends," he says. "We always tell people not to believe all the stories grandma told you."

He also advises young researchers to stay patient.

"You have to have patience," he said. "Anytime you find a new family member, you're going to open the door to finding several more."

Childress adds, "Genealogy is such an expandable hobby and it is limited only by the one doing the research."

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