you Know Your Roots? Genealogy Expert Gives Some Tips on how to Trace Your Family History
Koehler, Darrel. "Do you Know Your Roots? Genealogy Expert Gives Some Tips on how to Trace Your Family History." Grand Forks Herald, 25 July 1995.
Where did we come from?
This question neednt be confined to children who end up
with a quick "birds and the bees" answer from an uptight
parent. It also can pertain to adults who wonder where their forbearers
came from, what they did for a living and how they faced life long
While the answer might not come as quickly as the one that comes
to a child on his parents knee, there are answers to these
genealogical questions if you do the research. And much of the research
can be done right from your armchair, thanks to the computer era.
Leland Meitzler, who brought "The Heritage Quest - American
Genealogical Lending Library Road Show" to Grand Forks last
week, travels with his wife, Patty, in a special travel trailer
around the country, hoping to interest in tracing their family roots.
And judging by the more than 60 who attended a recent Grand Forks
session, local interest is considerable. The meeting was sponsored
by the newly created Minnkota Genealogical Society. Those attending
came from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks as well as Cando, Grafton
and Hillsboro, N.D., Thief River Falls and Winnipeg.
Besides the Grand Forks stop, Meitzler will be conducting a day
long seminar Tuesday at the Carrington (N.D.) Experiment Station.
The Carrington visit is sponsored by the James River Genealogy Club.
For more information: (701) 252-3879. These are the only stops in
the Dakotas this summer.
Meitzler is editor of Heritage Quest magazine, a bimonthly genealogy
technique publication and a nationally known genealogy speaker.
The publication includes a column on childrens genealogy,
written by Janet Smith, Minnkota Club president.
For nearly four hours Meitzler demonstrated on how instant information
can be obtained through the Utah-based library and from other sources
around the country and the world. He also explained the uses of
microfiche and other film, as well as computer programs and connections
that are available through the library to help in tracking down
ones ancestors. He also put a humorous spin on his presentation
when discussing some of his exploits in searching for long-dead
Meitzlers presentation not only was applicable to those
beginning genealogy, but also to experienced researchers.
Were do you start your ancestor quest?
"Write every living relative you know and provide a self-addressed,
stamped envelope. Then if you dont get a reply, follow up
with a phone call," said Meitzler. "And dont forget
all the cousins, too."
The phone call should be made about a month after mailing the
letter, if you receive no reply.
Researchers also should be willing to share any genealogical information
they uncover with others in the family.
"Then they will share in return. It (family information)
all comes home, over, over, and over again," he said. "And
even if they dont share, they might write and publish the
family history, saving you that expense as well."
Other sources of information include family Bibles, family group
sheets, old letters, photographs, business papers, naturalization
certificates, deeds and family histories.
There are several basic books that provide tips for genealogy.
He suggest Handybook for Genealogy and the "Redbook" by
Ancestry. The latter is currently out of print, but will soon by
reissued. He also suggested a guide for the area; unfortunately,
hes not found a good one for North Dakota.
Each state hands genealogical information in a different manner.
While Minnesota has a state genealogical society, North Dakota doesnt,
and genealogical queries are handled by the North Dakota Heritage
Center in Bismarck.
Meitzler said a good source for county and community histories
is the Allen County Public Library, 900 Webster, Fort Wayne, Ind.
45802. He advised those writing to keep requests brief. If no information
is found, the fee is waived. Otherwise, it is minimal.
Fleshing out ancestors
One of the most important things family researchers should do
is to "put some flesh on the bones of ancestors." Meitzler
while you can find such information is as birth, marriage and death,
you also want to find out more about the person such as how they
lived, what they did and if they served in the military.
But this information is more difficult to obtain than dates and
bare-bones facts. He said a good source for obtaining a more intimate
look at your relatives would be in community newspapers, which used
to have gossip columns devoted to such coming and goings.
"Youd be surprised what you can find out by reading
those gossip columns," he said.
In the event of death, Meitzler suggests checking at least six
weeks before and after the event to see what actually occurred.
He also warned about being careful even of legal documents such
as census reports, because the information may be in error.
He cited the example of a father being interviewed by a census
taker on the ages of his brood of children. "No father ever
gets the ages of his children straight," said Meitzler.
He said for every important fact or date, you should obtain other
information that substantiates the document. If not, keep looking
but dont rely solely on one piece of information.
Meitzler said some records make it easier to trace the paternal
lines of the family. He said in the case of land, "the boys
got the land and the girls got the feather beds." So, while
you may find entries for male members on deeds, you will in many
cases not find female family members listed.
A good source of genealogical information are federal censuses.
However, he again urged caution in getting additional information
to support the census records as errors also could be made in gathering
Federal censuses began shortly after the founding of the country
and continue every 10 years. The next census will be conducted in
2000. He said contrary to popular belief, the British didnt
burn all census data when they torched the nations capital
in 1814. Census data from 1790 and later can be found on the state
However, a disastrous fire did destroy the 1890 Census data, much
to the dismay of family researchers. He said when using census data,
check for the "Census Day." Thats the date on which
the census data is based. That date has varied from August to June
and now is set for April 1. In early censuses, the takers were political
appointees who were paid by the head, resulting in suspect data.
The tabulation took months and even years to be completed. Today,
it is completed in less than a month.
Meitzler said the problems with the census became so acute that
states set up their own census process, usually midway through the
10 year period between federal censuses. Many states also sought
recounts of the 1870 Census, the last before the Census Bureau founded
and the earlier problems were alleviated.
He also cited other data sources, such as Veteran records, livestock
brand registries and others. Meitzler also has developed new charts,
including some that show physical genetic traits as well as the
more traditional information, providing a chance to see inherent
health problems quickly among forebears.
A question-and-answer session followed. Meitzler also offered
for sale a wide variety of books, computer programs and one-on-one
assistance. The American Genealogical Lending Library is located
at Box 244, Bountiful, Utah 84011-0244. It has more than 150,000
book titles pertaining to family research.
Another source not listed by Meitzler:
Where to Write For Vital Records, which contains a state-by-state
listing of the addresses and telephone numbers of the archive where
each record can by found, the cost of the document and sample form
letters containing all the information needed to get these other
For a copy, send $6.50 (plus $2 shipping and handling) to Consumer
Center - Documents, 350 Scotland Road, Orange, N.J. 07050 or call
toll-free: (800) 872-0121.
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.