Tips on starting your genealogy journey

Monday, January 7, 2013
Bill Eddleman inside the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center in Jackson. (Laura Simon)

Genealogy research, the study of the descent of a person's ancestors, has become a popular subject to study. But, where do you begin?

"Learn as much as you can about yourself," says Bill Eddleman, president of the Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society. "Research birth certificates and marriage licenses of family members and interview older family members. People tend to put off doing this and then the family member is no longer with them and that information is lost."

The Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society can also be a huge information source, especially if your ancestors are from this area.

"The group was formed in 1970 and currently has around 100 members," says Eddleman. "We meet every other month (starting in January) at the County Archives Center in Jackson on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m."

Programs at the meeting vary from information regarding the history of the area to various methods of research.

"We also maintain the genealogical library at the archive center, which I think is one of the best in the region," says Eddleman. "The archive center also has a library that supplements the Genealogical Society's library."

New members to the Genealogical Society may find a connection through other members as well.

"When a new member or a visitor comes to a meeting, I always ask them who they are researching," says Eddleman. "Someone within the group may know of or have done some research on that same family."

Eddleman cautions to be wary of information that you find on the Internet regarding genealogical research.

"I would estimate that 50 percent of the information on the Internet [pertaining to genealogical research] is incorrect," he says. "You always have to double check that information. You will do better if you do your own research and be sure to document everything you find."

Reasons that people begin genealogical searches can range from medical research to an interest in family history.

"People research their family history for practical reasons so that they can see what medical conditions run in their family," says Eddleman. "I like to see how my ancestors tied in with the history of the country. A lot of people do it hoping to find a connection to a family title or wealth, but most of us find that we are related to working-class folks."

Jim Robison has been doing genealogical research on his family for about three years, although he refers to himself as a "novice."

"I had some family history passed down to me," he says. "A book written about my mother's family really sparked my interest. In it, I found that I had five great-uncles that were brothers, and they all served in the Civil War. Two of them were killed in the war, so only three returned home. It was a very interesting read."

Robison has had good luck using Ancestry.com in his search.

"It's a great source with a huge database," he says.

Like Eddleman, though, he cautions that not everything documented on the Internet is correct.

"You should always cross-reference everything," says Robison. "Some information that you gather from websites, you just have to take with a grain of salt."

Family Bibles and church records can hold a lot of family history as well.

"I went over to a church in Southern Illinois to look up some christening records," says Robison. "The records were written in Latin, so I asked a priest to translate them for me."

While Robison has just begun to do genealogical research, he hopes to get more serious about his search in the future.

"Once I've completely retired, I hope to do some traveling to do more research. I think there is a hunger in my generation to be able to look back and know more about our families' past," he says.

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