Assistant Lifestyle Editor
They exist in so many families -- the vague whisperings, myths and rumors about generations past and origins from across the ocean. Great-grandma was a Cherokee princess; great-great-grandpa was a Civil War hero; the family is descended from the original passengers of the Mayflower.
But how many of those old stories are true? And how do you know?
Familial ties have been a source of fascination for centuries, and though ancestry may not play as vital of a role in social and economic standing as it once did, tracing one's heritage is nonetheless a favored pastime.
Even for those who aren't out to prove a relation to some famous historical figure, genealogy appeals to a broad age range of people with a genuine curiosity and desire to pass on a verified family history.
With the advent of computers and the Internet, genealogy data such as birth, death, marriage and census records have become more accessible and easier to organize. Though genealogists may not have to spend as much time sorting through records in dusty courthouse basements, there is often no substitution for conventional research methods.
"Research generally requires tenacity -- lots of tenacity. Some see it as solving puzzles and others as a mystery to be solved, and still others as an act of love for their descendants," Humphrey said. "The most rewarding part of the job is to see the joy when a patron has that 'ah ha!' moment of finding an ancestor that's been eluding them for years. Or to see their eyes fill with tears as they see a copy of authentication of a relative's existence in a certain place at a particular time."
The Midland Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Family History Center, 4805 Gateway, taps into the extensive network of genealogical records kept by the Mormon church. The center, which is open to the public, can access files and films from all over the world. Their resources are not limited to ancestors of LDS members. There also is unlimited free access to the records found on www.familysearch.org
. If users were to access the Web site from home, certain areas require fees. Director Donna Perrigo and Devri Conlin are available to assist researchers in ordering films for a small fee or to browse through the films and records in their permanent collection. The center is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
"Whenever you learn about your history and your family -- good or bad -- you learn about yourself. We are all a product of every person who came before us," Conlin said.
"When we learn about our ancestors, it teaches how to learn from the past," Perrigo added.
Marilyn Friday, a member of the Midland Genealogy Society, has been interested in her ancestry since she was a young girl. She said she would pester her grandmother, who lived to be 99 years old, with all kinds of questions about the family history. Later when she taught school, she would pass by the county courthouse on her way home and would frequently stop to find various family records.
"When you start out researching genealogy, you should start with yourself. You'll be surprised how much you know, and more questions and holes in the story will start popping up," Friday said. "Then ask your oldest living relatives questions. But when you are talking to older people, their memories are not always accurate, so you might run into trouble. It's best to find marriage, death, birth records. Wills and court records are also a good source. But one of the easiest sources is the family Bible if you can find one. If someone in your family has recorded that information in the cover pages of the family Bible, that is considered a verifiable source."
In the decades since she first caught the genealogy bug, Friday has traced several of her ancestral lines and those of her husband. A closet in her home office guards a trove of family treasures -- files and boxes of faded sepia tinted photos, even the original tintype pictures of her great-grandparents. She has journals, yellowed, fragile letters from the turn of the century, family Bibles, copies of marriage, death and birth certificates and various documents that can verify the existence of her ancestors.
Though she is originally from Arkansas, Friday's research has led her to distant relatives in various states.
"I think one of the neatest things about doing genealogy research is you meet a lot of interesting people. Anyone who is related to you, however distantly, shares a bond with you. I once went to Oklahoma to meet the grandson of one of my dad's cousins, and I stopped at the wrong house. But the man who lived there happened to be another one of my relatives," she said.
Anyone looking into the past is bound to find out some surprising family secrets.
"I found out my great-grandmother and great-grandfather were not living together. She had told her children that he left to take a load of cotton to New Orleans but never came home. I found some records that proved they got a divorce. That was practically unheard of in those days. I told my uncle and he still won't believe it."
Regardless of what she uncovers, Friday seems unfazed.
"Skeletons in the closet don't bother me. That's the way life is," she said.
David Miller, Web Master for the Midland Genealogical Society's site, also learned something surprising about his family: His great-grandparents were first cousins.
"At first I was shocked, but then I found out that was common back then," Miller said.
Miller is originally from Illinois and his wife Betty is from Mississippi, but when Miller traced his own ancestral lines and those of his wife, he discovered that they are both descended from a family in the same county in Ireland. A coincidence he found to be funny.
Miller admits he's hooked on the hobby.
"My wife says I'm obsessed, and I spend all my free time fiddling with it," he said. "My children aren't the least bit interested in it and my sister forbids me to speak of genealogy in her presence," he said.
Despite the good-natured ribbing from his family, Miller says he won't go to the same lengths many genealogists do. He prefers to use the Internet and local sources to gather as much information as possible.
"I'm sort of an unorthodox genealogist, and most people who are serious about it would say I'm worthless," he said. "I don't like to go digging through courthouses or spend my vacations looking for family headstones in cemeteries. I like to do my research at home in my pajamas with my family by my side."
Miller warns researchers must be careful when using Internet sources. A lot of the sites require paid memberships and not all of the information is reliable.
Often, Miller said, the Internet provides clues that require further research.
"If I could find all my genealogy history right there on the Internet, it wouldn't be as much fun. The fun is the challenge," he said.? With a common name like Miller, he has had to be careful to follow a narrow path to trace his lines to his direct ancestors, and not similarly named unrelated families. Over the course of his research, he has found it was easier to follow the lines of some of the women in his family.
It may seem like a stretch to many, but Miller said science can simplify the process of proving ancestry. There are several services available to test and compare DNA
"If you think you may be related to a certain person in history, you can find one of his living relatives and get a DNA sample and compare it to yours. It's usually nothing invasive, just a cotton swab on the inside of your cheek," Miller said.
DNA testing also can identify certain genetic markers specific to particular geographic regions. This process can help target which area of Europe or Africa someone's ancestors came from. It can also tell you whether you are of Native American descent.
for the rest of the article.