By DAVID GREEN
Nancy Brockoff-Dzierzawski took an unusual route into her current passion—the study of genealogy.
Her son once said to her, “I know my father is Polish, but what am I?”
So began the quest.
Brockoff-Dzierzawski spoke at Stair Public Library last week to give those interested in family history some hints on where to begin.
The first step, she said, is to get organized by starting to fill out ancestor charts and family group sheets. Add the information you know, and make sure you write out dates so 05-07 means May 7 and not July 5.
Free forms are available from many websites and a simple search will bring them up.
Some people use a lot of notebooks—everyone did 20 years ago—and others keep all their records in a computer. She uses a combination of each.
“When I first started doing genealogy there were no computers,” Nancy said. “And I’m terrified of losing data.”
Several genealogical websites are available and many offer at least a basic software program at no cost. Roots Magic, Family Tree Maker and Personal Ancestral File are three good programs, she said, but others can be found at Cyndi’s List—a clearinghouse providing an enormous amount of information.
Obtain a free e-mail account to use only for genealogy (Yahoo or Gmail from Google, for example), print out a research log to keep track of your searches, and you’re ready to begin.
Nancy says to get to know the area where you’re searching and consider joining a local history group.
Subscribe to newsletters such as Dick Eastman’s, RootWeb or About to receive many good tips and updates. Subscribe to a magazine such as Family Tree or Internet Genealogy.
Download podcasts of discussions (Genealogy Guys or Dear Myrtle) and listen to them while driving or in your spare time.
Be specific in your searches, she says, to narrow down the possibilities. Rather than looking for a name alone, add a date or a place, etc.
Sometimes the person you’re seeking will be listed with information about a relative of the person. Check with relatives for records and then head for the internet and start with census records.
“Don’t look only for your people, but also at their neighbors,” Nancy suggested. “People often traveled in packs. You might find your relatives listed with others, and sometimes with the name spelled wrong.”
In addition to websites already listed, Nancy suggests Linkpendium, Google, FamilySearch, Heritage Quest (through the Michigan Electronic Library), Ancestry and Footnote.
Some sites charge for complete service, but offer free material, also.
“Go to Cyndi’s List, type in Lenawee County and see what pops up,” she said. “Cyndi’s List is one of those things you just have to sit down and play with. There’s so much information.
“Every screen I’ve showed you is a whole afternoon,” Nancy said about the websites she presented.
Nancy cautioned people to use the internet only as a guide. Anyone can put anything on the internet and it might not be accurate. Find the information, then find the proof.
Audience member Robert Jennings suggested the Pilot Search arm of the Family Search website.
Deathindexes.com and SeekingMichigan.org also might offer help in searching, Nancy said, and Facebook groups could be of assistance.
Nancy said to search for pieces of your family tree at sites such as RootWeb World Connect, Tribal Pages and Family Search.
Information can often be obtained without travel by asking for help from local genealogical societies and Family History Centers (Latter Day Saints). At the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website, a person states the need and someone in the area might travel to a nearby cemetery to take a photo of a gravestone, for example.
Before heading out to a courthouse or library, first check to see what’s available on-line and also determine the open hours. WorldCat.org provides catalogues of library holdings from around the world.
“When you get stuck, try to trace a sibling forward or backward, called a collateral line,” Nancy said. “Go through your search again to see if there’s something you missed. Just keep plugging the name into every search engine.”
Above all, she said, remember that your search isn’t just a quest for data.
“Try to keep it personal. That’s one of the fun things about genealogy. You really need to remember they’re people and we’re trying to tell their story.”