Finding Your Roots
Genealogy craze has people
researching family histories
Many area resources available to help uncover the past
February 2018 Cover
(February 2018) – Rabbit holes. Brick walls. Bright, shiny objects. The Happy Dance.
Anyone who researches his family history is familiar with at least one of these terms and also knows that genealogy can be as addictive as any drug. The pursuit of your family’s story can lead a researcher down a path that winds through generations and has as many off-ramps as I-65.
One piece of information can answer one burning question – for example, a birth record will document when and where your great-grandfather was born – but invariably leads to more questions. How did his parents get to that city and when? Where were they from? What did they do to support the family? What did great-grandfather do when he grew up? If he was in the military, when did he serve and where?
The list goes on and on; the more you dig, the more you want to know. And you’re in good company because genealogists love nothing better than to share information – especially with new-found cousins and other family members. Go to any genealogy conference or workshop and you will hear stories about how great-great-grandmother Mary and her parents were a complete mystery until the researcher stumbled upon that one document no one knew existed. (Such a find is what leads to the Happy Dance.)
Genealogy Research Facilities in the Region
Indiana Resources• Jefferson County Public Library, 420 W. Main St., Madison, Ind. (812) 265-2744
• Jefferson County Historical Society, 615 W. First St., Madison, Ind. (812) 265-2335
• Hanover College, Duggan Library-Federal Depository Library Program, Hanover College, 121 Scenic Dr., Hanover, Ind. (812) 866-7165
• Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis, Ind. (317) 232-1882
• Switzerland County Library, 205 Ferry St, Vevay, Ind. (812) 427-3363
• New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, 180 W Spring St., New Albany, Ind. (812) 944-8464
• New Albany Indiana Family History Center, 1534 Slate Run Rd., New Albany, Ind. (812) 949-2858
• North Vernon Indiana Family History Center, 430 Hayden Pike, North Vernon, Ind.
• Jennings County Public Library, 2375 N. State Hwy. 3, North Vernon, Ind. (812) 346-2091
• Jackson County Indiana Public Library, 303 W. Second St., Seymour, Ind. (812) 522-3412
• The Filson Historical Society, 1310 S. Third St., Louisville, Ky. (502) 635-5083
• Louisville Kentucky Family History Center, 1000 S. Hurstbourne., Louisville, Ky. (502) 426-8174
• Shawnee Kentucky Family History Center, 1542 S. 32nd St., Louisville, Ky.
• Kentucky Historical Society Library, 100 W. Broadway St., Frankfort, Ky. (502) 564-1792
• University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections, Ekstrom Library, Lower Level, 2215 S. Third St. Louisville, Ky. (502) 852-6757
• Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, 300 Coffee Tree Rd., Frankfort, Ky. (502) 564-8300
• Oldham County Public Library, 308 Yager Ave., La Grange, Ky. (502) 222-9713
• Oldham County Historical Society’s History Center, 106 N Second St., La Grange, Ky. (502) 222-0826
• Trimble County Public Library, 112 Hwy. 42 East, Bedford, Ky. (502) 255-7362
• Carroll County Public Library, 136 Court St., Carrollton, Ky. (502) 732-7020
• Sons of the American Revolution Genealogical Research Library, 809 W. Main St., Louisville, Ky. (502) 589-1776
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 E. Freedom Way, Cincinnati. 1-877-648-4838
While it’s always been a popular hobby – and for some, a vocation – genealogy has become big business.
The Internet has made accessing millions of documents very easy. For instance, all U.S. Census records from the first one in 1790 to 1940 (except those lost to a fire in 1890) can now be found on searchable databases. Of course, Ancestry.com is always the first website most people think of, but go visit Cyndislist.com and you’ll find more than 350,000 links to websites related to family history research – most of them free.
Started more than 20 years ago by professional genealogist and national speaker Cyndi Ingle for her own use to keep track of websites she’d found while researching, the site now boasts about 250,000 unique visitors each month searching more than 180 categories, to which she adds 1,500 new links each month.
“The list began with 1,025 links, all listed on one page,” Ingle writes. “The list is now contained on more than 650 individual pages.”
Helen McKinney, who specializes in genealogical research for the Oldham County Historical Society in La Grange, Ky., said she believes the biggest boon to the industry has been from the popularity of television shows such as “Finding Your Roots” and “Genealogy Roadshow,” both on PBS, or “Who Do You Think You Are,” a show that was produced by “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow and first aired on NBC.
“I’ve noticed it just seems to be a natural process with people, that the older they get, they seem to become more interested in their ancestors,” McKinney said. It often becomes a pastime for retirees, mainly because it is a very time-consuming for those who are driven to create a well-documented family tree.
“Age has a way of making you think of these things, making you question ‘Did I have an ancestor who spoke like me or had the same gestures?’ ‘Did they look like me or think the way I do?’ Even if they lived 100 years ago,” McKinney said.
Additionally, people find genealogical research helpful for learning about medical conditions or health issues they might have inherited.
“Finding out which ancestors had certain ailments that run in the family can be very beneficial, if you have health problems that you can’t explain,” McKinney said. “I read an article recently about a woman who had a heart attack at age 37, even though she seemed to be in perfect health. Once she started digging into her family tree, she realized her grandfather died from the same thing at the same age. More digging revealed there were more relatives who succumbed to heart disease at an early age.
“It’s good to know that your ancestors lived, but it’s also good to know what they died from or if they had any lifelong diseases or illnesses,” she added.
CeCe Moore, founder of the San Diego-based DNA Detectives and a genetic genealogist, works with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (left) on “Finding Your Roots.”
According to a study sponsored by Ancestry.com, online family history research has exploded and is 14 times more popular than it was as decade ago. In the study, 63 percent of respondents said family history has become more important than ever and that knowing more about our past is a key to understanding who we are now.
Linda Roaks, president of the Jefferson County (Ind.) Genealogical Society, is also a volunteer at the Jefferson County (Ind.) History Center archives at 615 W. First St. in Madison, Ind. The archives receives a steady stream of emails, letters and phone calls from people all over the world trying to find information about family members who, at some point, lived in the area.
“I think people use genealogy to find out more about how things tie together,” Roaks said. “Sometimes, people don’t think that their heritage has any meaning because, well, (their ancestors are) all dead and gone. But everything that everybody did in the past affects how and why you’re here. When you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, it’s quite interesting.”
The latest boon to the industry, however, has been the popularity of in-home DNA testing, offered by Ancestry and other companies, including 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA. More companies are popping up all the time, all over the world.
Most people are lured by the promise of finding out exactly from where their ancestors came. The added bonus is finding people you never knew – or otherwise could have known – who are related to you.
Linda Roaks, president of the Jefferson County (Ind.) Genalogical Society.
“The recent explosion in the popularity of DNA testing has inspired many new people to delve into their ancestral past,” said CeCe Moore, founder of the San Diego-based DNA Detectives and a genetic genealogist who works with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. to combine DNA information with research to unearth the family stories of celebrity guests on his show, “Finding Your Roots.”
“Those who develop more than a passing interest in their results quickly learn that the true power of DNA testing lies in the intersection of this cutting-edge technology with the age-old study of genealogical records,” Moore said. “The ready availability of the tremendous trove of online digitized documents, combined with the tremendous promise of DNA testing, learning about our family history is both easier and more exciting than ever before.”
DNA has been used by many family history researchers to break down the “brick walls” that keep us from knowing the identity of ancestors who may not be easily found in historical records.
In fact, Moore leads a cadre of other genetic genealogists – most of them volunteers – who have used DNA and traditional research to help thousands of adoptees, and others of unknown parentage, find their biological families.
Whenever she speaks about genetic genealogy, Moore emphasizes that, while DNA test results may provide some answers, it also can open up a whole new can of worms. There are hundreds of cases in which a person who tests discovers that he or she, in fact, is not biologically related to the family who raised them.
Genetic genealogy is a new and evolving science, and there are as many opinions as there are professional genealogists as to how accurate the algorithms used by the testing companies are, in terms of predicting someone’s ethnicity.
Helen McKinney of the Oldham County (Ky.) Historical Society.
But when a DNA test matches you with others – particularly at a close-relationship level, there, can be no doubt that you and that person are related, Moore says.
“You have to connect paper and people with the town they are from,” Roaks said. “You can’t have everything indexed. You keep it in your brain and sometimes, when you are looking for something else, you come across something that relates to someone else’s research.”
The bottom line: Online research and DNA testing have limitations, and neither can be used as a replacement for good, old-fashioned legwork. There are millions of digitized records to be found, but there are exponentially more records that can only be found in courthouses, city halls, churches, county or city libraries, and state and local archives.
Roaks recalled one case in which she was helping a man from Vigo County who had come to Madison to research his grandmother, who was born here. As a little girl, the grandmother had been placed in the orphanage that operated here in the city; she later was adopted and raised by an Amish family near Fort Wayne.
“We could give him pictures of the orphanage,” she said, but a search of the archives index yielded little more information.
It wasn’t until Roaks was researching another family when she discovered, quite by accident, court records showing that the mother of the man’s grandmother had been arrested for “entertaining men,” and that this was why her children – the man’s grandmother and two siblings – were sent to the orphanage.
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