Genealogy 101 gives tips and resources

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Enfield - posted Mon., May. 20, 2013
Reference librarian Katie Werth was well prepared for her first Genealogy 101 session. After explaining the resources available at the library and demonstrating their use, she fielded questions until the room was empty. Photo by Tom Phelan.
Reference librarian Katie Werth was well prepared for her first Genealogy 101 session. After explaining the resources available at the library and demonstrating their use, she fielded questions until the room was empty. Photo by Tom Phelan.

One of Enfield Public Library’s hottest Techno Topics was on the calendar Monday, May 13, as Reference Librarian Katie Werth presented a refresher of Genealogy 101, for which the library offers ample resources.

As people filed into the community room they found handouts about the library’s genealogy resources and other external resources. “How to start tracing your family tree,” and “101 best websites from Family Tree Magazine” offered tips about how and where to start looking.

EPL subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, the one whose TV commercials most of us are familiar with. The subscription can only be used inside the library, and is not available remotely. ALE has many forms and charts that can help family genealogists to keep track of research they have done. Those forms can be printed at the library.

Heritage Quest can be accessed from computers outside the library, and it offers a different slant on the search for family history. Besides common records such as the U.S. Census, users can search for their genealogy in books, periodicals, Freedman’s Bank records and Revolutionary War records.

Werth jumped right into search mode on the computer, showing her audience how the displays look and the kinds of data they will retrieve. She added a quick list of tips for those who might just be starting to research family history. She suggested interviewing family members, even exchanging information with others who had any data that might prove helpful in locating the best reference records. She also suggested searchers keep good records of databases and websites as they visited them. “It’s a lot of work, genealogy,” Werth said. “You don’t want to do the same thing twice.” It is also important to be consistent with the data format they use, such as dates.

Census forms are the fundamental resources for building a family tree. Researchers can view the actual census-taker’ sheets, and the software allows the user to enlarge the view to drill down to specific details. To corroborate census data, there are databases of voter lists, vital records (birth, marriage and death), military and immigration and travel, as well as newspapers and periodicals.

She showed samples of census records. It is best to start with a general search argument.  Using too much detail in a search might trim the results, and even eliminate the data being sought.

“Although censuses have a lot of information, they can also have a lot of inaccuracies.” Werth emphasized. She explained how names could actually change over time. She found in her own searches that the woman named Minnie she had been looking for was actually named Mary. “Sometimes records that contain other matching information might be clues telling you to look for more verification.”

This was the first Genealogy 101 session for the EPL’s reference librarian, and she was well prepared to deliver the presentation. She chose a particular census record that said a man was widowed, but the next line down listed a 21-year old single woman as his wife. That woman was, in fact, his daughter, and named after her mother. Further along, Werth found the man’s sister-in-law, which provided his wife’s maiden name. She cautioned her audience, “When you find something in a census record, try to back it up with information from a vital record, which might have been recorded a little bit better.”

The availability and quality of vital records varies from state to state. Werth has had good success with information from Vermont. She retrieved for the group some actual birth records from 1913, which included the person’s number of siblings at birth, mother’s maiden name, and father’s full name and employment. Pieces of that one record enabled searches for more data about the child’s father, his death, where his parents were from and his wife’s maiden name.

Military service, pension records and draft cards from WWI and WWII are among the data available through the searchable databases. From a WWI draft card Werth discovered one man’s date of birth, that he was a citizen, where his father was born, the name of his employer and the name of his nearest relative. Draft card records showed his actual signature and a description of the person. The WWII draft card for the same person had apparent contradictions between eye color and height. All of the other data from the two records seemed to match, which created real doubt about whether or not the same person served in the two wars.

“It’s not just ancient history that you’ll find here,” Werth said toward the end of the hour-long presentation. EPL has high school yearbooks, as do many libraries, which can help fill in data about the more recent branches of the family tree.

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