Navigating your family tree

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Library now offers free access to online genealogical tracking program

By Deanna Godman

The Spencer County Library has a new resource for anyone interested in learning more about family history. The library subscribed to the genealogical resource Ancestry.com two weeks ago due to patron requests for more genealogical resources.

“I had a couple of patrons ask me if we had any genealogy databases,” said Debra Lawson. “I had to tell them no.”
She helped them find free online resources. She started looking into genealogy resources the library could offer and contacted the Spencer County Historical Society, who said that Ancestry.com “absolutely was a good product.”
Ancestry.com was chosen in part because it is a familiar name and most people recognize it. It is also simple to use, Lawson said.
“With some products, you have to have a background in research to benefit,” she said. “I think it will help those people who are interested in doing research. They’ll have a better idea of what they’re looking for in the printed materials.”
Lawson suggested the television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” has sparked interest in genealogy, especially among the younger generation.
“It’s made younger people interested in researching family history,” said Lawson, adding that this is another reason that Ancestry.com will be helpful. “Young people are more [likely] to do online research.”
Even with no background in research or genealogy, patrons can easily find information on their family history with Ancestry.com, she said.
“You can start very simply with a name and the area,” said Lawson. “And it will return information from many different databases, including Social Security death index, and marriage, birth and death records. You can look at one person’s whole life and not just one area.”
Privacy concerns are not really relevant, Lawson said. All of the materials that are available on Ancestry.com are available as open records through the government. Research libraries often have the documents available on microfilm.
“Ancestry.com combines the records and makes them easier to find,” said Lawson. “Not being a genealogist, I enjoy using it and finding out things I didn’t know. I think this is a subject people are interested in, and this product makes it easier to do research.”
Lawson advised that anyone interested in learning more about their families should start from scratch rather than trying to confirm family stories.
Genealogists start out with information gathered from their families, but like any good researcher, they must sift through all of the information and not just the pieces that confirm the stories they hear, she said.
“Don’t try to prove what you know,” said Lawson. “It’s easier to do research and get information than to try to corroborate stories.”
Ancestry.com is available on the library’s computers, and documents can be printed for 10 cents each. People with laptops can access Ancestry.com through the library’s free wireless internet. The library’s subscription to Ancestry.com can only be accessed within the library, but it is available for home subscribers also.
“It helps put family stories in perspective,” said Lawson.