PRIME TIME Don't know where to begin?

By Valerie Kiger

Uncovering the history of one's own family is becoming an increasingly popular pursuit, but there are definitely some approaches to genealogy that will yield better results than others.

Mary Kolb, who began tracing family roots 25 years ago, remembers a skit the Olmsted County Genealogical Society put on at the Olmsted County History Center.

The message of the skit was, "Don't go into the courthouse and say, 'I'm looking for my relatives. I think she lived here in the 1920s ... We just called her Aunt Gert.'"


Full names, dates of birth and death, and place names are important, but sometimes tricky, facts to gather for genealogists.

Kathleen McMullin, president of the local genealogical society, strongly suggests beginners take a course or attend a genealogy club meeting.

"Because you will find out the Internet is not the only way," she said.

Even with the information and services available online, a complete family history is rarely easily acquired.

"It's not done for you unless you're a very important person," McMullin noted.

No one in her family "made headlines," she said. "In some cases, I think they were trying to avoid them."

Kolb keeps a list of all the names of people she's trying to find information on. Then, as she travels, she can stop in at courthouses or libraries.

But people who plan to look for county records should call ahead so they know where to go, McMullin said. Information may be located in various types of records.


Preparation can be important even when interviewing relatives, Helen Jameson said.

"Make sure you interview at least some of the older people still alive, because so often you wish you had gotten more information. You need to have some idea what you're asking about, too, because older people sometimes wander on. The other thing is to identify (people in) pictures," Jameson said.

Everyone has a different way of organizing their research, but deciding on a method before starting is a good idea.

"I made some mistakes and had to go back over (some research)," Jameson said. "Now with computers, that's a little bit easier. There are computer programs for (genealogy)."

"Record the sources, because often the information doesn't match from different sources," she added. When that happens, an additional source may be necessary to confirm information.

"The best advice I would give, besides talk to every relative who's willing to tell you, is to look in obvious places," McMullin said. "You will find documents all over the place.

McMullin even found her maternal grandmother's baptismal certificate stuffed in attic rafters. "And never give up, because there's always a key someplace," she said.

She suggested asking a friend to look over writing that's so flowery or scribbled it's difficult to read.


"Go back and look at things you've looked at before, for instance, the census. In that intervening time, you will have found enough to make a connection," McMullin added.

Genealogy clubs can provide tips for starting and examples of completed genealogy books.

"People don't have to be afraid when they go out there that they don't know what they're looking for," Jameson said. "If they join the club or go out to the library to see what others have done, they can get started fairly easily."

But beware, there's no turning back from the hunt.

"If you try it, you're going to get hooked, because it's your family," McMullin said. "It's your history."

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