Tracing your family roots is something you have always wanted to do, but somehow, you can never find the time. Work, kids, phone, house, dog…something always keeps you from doing what it takes to even get started.
Librarians at the Southfield Public Library know just how hard this can be. That’s why they offer an after-hours Genealogy Lock-In.
“We are literally locked in after hours, after the library is closed,” explains Kitty Allen, of the Adult Services Department of the Southfield Public Library. “It’s a peaceful, distraction-free time. At home, good luck! The phone rings, and you are distracted.”
The event, now in its ninth year, encourages participants to put their heads down and get to work building their family tree, or filling branches that take concentrated time and energy to leaf out. Library staff, experts at guiding people through research of all kinds, are on hand during the event to answer questions.
“Sometimes, it’s nice to have a chance to bounce ideas off of someone,” says Allen.
The library also has big tables where participants can spread out with paperwork, to capture their family tree from a big-picture view, which is sometimes enormously helpful when drawing connections from one family member to another. Popular ancestry software programs are also available on the computers, but are special limited-resource library versions.
“You can’t form your own tree on it, but you can search,” says Allen. Participants may be able to print some information to take with them
One of the most important resources for building a family tree is the United States Census, according to Allen. “It’s really fun to see your parent as a 3-year old in the Census. You can track your grandparents, and everywhere they lived in their lifetime. You can stake down who was in the household, and where they were. You may think you know, but sometimes through research, you get a surprise,” she says.
Building a family tree is an exercise in proving information correct or incorrect. Every birth, marriage, and death, and all the information in between, can be clues. “A marriage record or license would tell you who were witnesses at the wedding, and they may be people who are important to the family,” Allen says.
The entire process is like a puzzle, and you are driven by the desire to know more about your family, and to know accurate details. Those who want to get started can use a couple of common ancestry tools.
“You can start with a pedigree chart, and move on to a family group sheet,” Allen says. “You are staking down the facts of the family, and the more you know going in or can estimate, the more accurately you can limit your research.”
What Allen really enjoys about the Genealogy Lock-In is witnessing people learn some really incredible stories about their families. For some, she says, the information is identity-forming.
“You can humanize people who are, up to that point, just a name,” she says. And those who learn about their own families are destined to learn more about history, as well. Sudden deaths from diseases like influenza or cholera can erase entire families, or families experience financial ruin during The Great Depression or other catastrophic loss. Still others lose family members during wartime. These are historical events that can come to life through our own families, and can become poignant and real for the researcher.
Those who put in time and effort, and who really want to know more about their ancestors, can be surprised by the unexpected rewards. But getting results is also a fair amount of work, a reality some just aren’t prepared for.
“The process is not for everybody. It’s tedious. But it is a puzzle and this is your identity. People find out things that are surprising to them, like an ethnicity they weren’t aware of,” Allen says. “But the library offers a beautiful space to do this work. You can rest your eyes, go into a dreamy state, and benefit from the peace and quiet and space.”
The Genealogy Lock-In is on Thursday, June 21, from 7 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., on the second floor of the Southfield Public Library. The event always draws a crowd, so register early.
Registration begins June 1, and is limited by space and resources. Visit the library’s website, or call (248) 796-4200.