Rooting through family history

Computers, paperwork make it possible to follow unknown branches on the family tree

Computers, paperwork make it possible to follow unknown branches on the family tree

March 29, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

It is a small, narrow, nondescript room off a hallway of Hancock's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Along one wall are a couple of filing cabinets and a series of microfilm readers. No more than five feet away, along the opposite wall, are three computers and additional filing cabinets.

Inside, Genaiavie Stafford sits at a computer. Alternately scrolling across the screen or popping in a new CD, she is trolling the past to unearth branches on her family tree.

"I have a lot of fun, I really do. I can sit here for hours and hours just checking and verifying things," the 75-year-old says. "It's a lot of running around to do, and a lot of people don't enjoy it. But I thoroughly enjoy running around to courthouses and digging into records because you never know what you are going to find."


Stafford is researching her husband's lineage at the Hancock church's Family History Center. Similar sites are scattered across the Tri-State area, wherever interest in genealogy crests.

After 40 years of genealogical searching, 75-year-old William Turner says he has seen a shift in researchers from mostly older people to a mix of young and old interested in tracing their paths.

At their disposal in the Family History Center are local records and a database, maintained in Salt Lake City, comprised of microfilmed records and periodicals listing millions of family ties. Turner is one of many volunteers who help visitors negotiate the center when it is open three days a week.

Common motivations may include tracking a long-lost loved one or determining a health history of heart disease; often, curiosity reigns.

"It's not a fad. People get into it wanting to know where they came from," Turner says. "A lot of us don't even know or haven't seen some of our grandparents. They may know whether grandparents on one side of the family and know nothing about grandparents on the other side."

When he retired, Turner and his sister spent two years tracing his maternal family back to 1710. Since, he and his brother have worked on their father's family.

In a McConnellsburg, Pa., courthouse two and a half years ago, Stafford was searching for information about her grandparents. She had a marriage certificate, but no date and was looking to complete her record.

There that day was Turner, conducting his own research. They met and Stafford has been hooked on her family history ever since.

She has visited funeral homes, courthouses and cemeteries searching for information, and says patience plus a little detective work are needed to wade through long-ago census records to find what she needs.

But the benefits, she says, are extraordinary.

"You feel so close to all of these people by the time you go to the cemetery and find their tombstones," Stafford says. "You really relive their steps."

Jackie Divelbliss began searching her family three years ago. She remembers years ago when her parents and siblings would speak about relatives she never heard of.

"It's just fun. It's a lot of work, but a lot of fun," Divelbliss says. "When you find something, it's like putting a puzzle together. But you never get it completely finished, though."

Through the Family History Center, people - church members or non members; there is no restriction - can mine the resources available, ranging from ancestral files and the Social Security Death Index to a U.S. Military Index from Korea and Vietnam to a database of Scottish Church Records.

Family History Library records from Salt Lake City are available as well. Microfilm is sent to the local family history center where it remains for six weeks before being shipped back.

And what if all of these searches turn up nothing? Local centers can help people negotiate public records like marriages, births and deaths to build a family tree locally.

"When you find one you want to find another," Divelbliss says. "It's a desire to learn, learn about ... I didn't know my grandparents but I wanted to learn about them. I didn't know them, but I've got pictures of them now."

On the Web:

The Herald-Mail Articles