If you’ve already perfected your pandemic sourdough, begun learning Japanese through Mango, and devoured all 16 books in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series, perhaps this winter is the ideal time to dig into your personal history. Did you know that Pikes Peak Library District is ready to help you connect more with your family, without ever having to leave your home?
According to a recent PPLD community needs assessment, even though 74% of residents were aware that the library district offers a range of online resources for students, job seekers and those learning a new skill (like bread baking or Japanese), only 30% knew that PPLD also offers online databases for family history research.
Linda Vixie, newsletter editor, webmaster and 20-plus-year member of the Pikes Peak Genealogical Society (ppgs.org) — a local 40-year-old nonprofit dedicated to promoting an interest in genealogy and supporting PPLD in its work to preserve local public records — says that, “Genealogy is a hobby that attracts people of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds. We all have ancestors and can be proud of their stories.”
And, she says, it’s easy to get started — particularly with PPLD’s free online resources.
For those brand-new to genealogy, her first tip is straight-forward. “I suggest they start with themselves. Gather the information you have about your own family. Your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents if known.”
From there, she says, you can use genealogy software to compile and track the information — she suggests looking into free options like Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic. Then it’s on to more research and records searches. Ancestry.com, one of the options currently available for free for PPLD patrons through the library’s website, is one of the largest online resources in the world for family history.
“I’ve used Ancestry,” says Vixie, “and it's great to have [access to] it from home. I have a personal subscription to the U.S. records, and what's cool is what the library offers has European records too, so I don't have to pay for the full subscription.”
As you’re tracking information, Vixie notes it’s important to also research and record sources. “Maybe grandma has passed down some documentation — and that’s a great place to start — but what grandma reported needs to be verified because it may or may not be accurate.”
She adds that it’s worth keeping in mind that parts of your ancestry will be easy to research. Other may be more challenging. “It often takes effort to learn to do the research, but solving mysteries, getting to be a family history sleuth, is fun and rewarding. But you must be prepared to be willing to learn the skills and do the work.”
In addition to ancestry.com, Vixie recommends a few other sites for those just getting started: the U.S. Genealogy Records Directory through the Latter-Day Saints Genealogy Project (ldsgenealogy.com/dir/), the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors site (americanancestors.org) and Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org/en/). PPLD’s Regional History and Genealogy department lists even more online options (https://ppld.org/genealogy-ppld) and provides free toolkits for using different sites and looking for different types of records as well as a five-step beginner’s guide (https://ppld.org/sites/default/files/specialcollections/genealogybasics.pdf) that includes pedigree charts, family group sheets, how-to-research suggestions and other organizational tools and recommendations.
Both PPLD and PPGS are currently offering online workshops for beginners via Zoom. PPLD’s monthly virtual genealogy coffee talks feature a discussion moderated by one of the regional history and genealogy department staff members. And for those further along in their process, PPGS has special interest groups focused on a range of topics from DNA to Colonial America.
Vixie says digging into her family history has been very fulfilling and encourages anyone interested to just jump in.
“You learn so much, and you meet great people,” she says. “Two days ago, I just heard of a man in Germany who is my half third cousin once removed. I have pictures of his great-great-grandfather who never came to America. He sent pictures of himself to my relatives and he died in the 1940s. It's exciting to make connections with people.”
So as Covid-19 numbers continue to rise, and hosting the usual holiday gatherings with grandma and grandpa and others is not recommended, doing genealogical research could not only give you something new to focus on, but it could help you stay connected with your family over the miles and the months.
Vixie agrees. “I think it's a great idea because if you can find some things that you can then share with your family, over the phone or over Zoom, or however you’re doing it, if you can't get together, it may be really exciting for the whole family to find things out together.”
She just has one warning.
“It is addicting,” she says with a laugh.