Is your middle name from your great, great aunt Pearl? Do you know anything about her? For many, finding out your roots is a chance to find out more about yourself. For as long as records have existed, people have traced their family history. But where exactly do you start?
Naperville resident Jane Haldeman can trace her family back to before America was even a country. She first became interested in genealogy after an eighth grade school project. She continued here or there throughout the years, and for the last 15 or 20, genealogy has been her life.
“It’s exciting,” said Haldeman. “The hunt, that’s what’s so much fun. I love finding out more and more. It’s more than just the finding out those numbers, some of these people I’ve gotten to know so well from the records that I can almost tell you what they look like. How they talked.”
Haldeman has a whole collection of pictures, letters, and artifacts from family members. The search for her family history has taken her on many trips, including a recent one to Pennsylvania to see an immigrant ancestor’s grave, and uncovered a few interesting facts.
“One of my ancestors, Caroline Randolph Woodson Wilson. She married a Wilson. She is related through the Woodson line to Thomas Jefferson. I’m like first cousins so many times removed,” she said.
Haldeman advises to start with what you know and the easiest place to find that is often your birth certificate.
“You ask your parents, then your grandparents,” she said. “So you start with yourself and then you start backwards. You look at what’s at home first because you have an awful lot of stuff there. You can go to the courthouses; you can go to cemeteries if you have your families’ cemetery stones. You can go online.”
In the beginning days of the Internet, finding out trustworthy information about your family was difficult. But websites like ancestry.com and familysearch.org actually have a lot of useful information, but always double-check the facts.
“If you find someone’s family tree on the Internet, don’t necessarily believe it,” said Haldeman. “Use it as a road map, because you don’t know how well researched they were. Just because someone said well ‘so and so was that person’s grandfather,’ doesn’t mean they necessarily knew.”
Today Haldeman is involved in multiple societies. She’s the president of the Fox Valley Genealogical Society. She says joining a group like that is the best way to get started.
“Join even if you don’t have relatives in that area,” she said. “The reason you do is you can go and talk to people who have been doing it longer and get advice. Going to lectures, find out about a repository or something else that will help you on your search.”
The Fox Valley Genealogical Society meets the second Thursday every month from September through June at the Naperville Municipal Center. For more information visit their website at ilfvgs.org.
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