Genealogy buffs find local society helpful

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 8, 2001

For a group of local genealogy buffs passionate about their past, networking with the living helps them unearth information about the dead.

Sunday, July 08, 2001

For a group of local genealogy buffs passionate about their past, networking with the living helps them unearth information about the dead.

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&uot;There are a lot of resources here for such a small place,&uot; Freeborn County Historical Society Librarian Linda Evenson said. &uot;I get a lot of people that are so surprised. I’ve had people from other areas who will comment, they’re amazed a town this size has so much information.&uot;

Since it began in 1978, members of the Freeborn County Genealogical Society put all those resources to good use. There are currently 60 members, said President Roger Lonning, who can trace some branches of his family back to 1598 in Norway.

&uot;About as far back as any Norwegian can go is 1598,&uot; he said.

The Black Death wiped out so many people before then that records get spotty, agreed society member Joanne Johnsrud.

Plus, they were Pagans way back then, without much of a written language, Lonning said.

It seems any question can send the two careening through a discussion of history or research theory. Records lost in long-ago church fires still cause them dismay, but the Internet is making it easier to access information that remains.

&uot;Did you know they have the Minnesota death index on-line now,&uot; asks Jean Legried -a certified genealogical records specialist and genealogical society founder.

Legried became interested in family history as a child, and did her first big research project in high school. Researching family has taught her a lot about herself and her place in the world. Sometimes the connections between family members can be spooky, members agreed. Legried realized this on a trip to Norway to visit old relatives she had never met, and see her family’s home place.

&uot;In many of the houses of relatives they had displays of family pictures, and in one, a picture of Pat’s great-grandpa was on the wall,&uot; she said. &uot;We have the same picture on our living room wall.&uot;

But the difference between family history and social history is you get to use discretion when dealing with the parts you’re not especially proud of, like an ancestors who were criminals or had illegitimate children. A researcher has to be careful about ancestral indiscretions, said Lonning who writes family histories for his children and grandchildren. He’s found some things in his family tree he won’t put in the books, he said. He told one story about a relative who had a brush with the law.

&uot;Don’t you dare put that in,&uot; he said.

Privacy laws limit what the researchers can do with information about living relatives, but family secrets can be fascinating, Johnsrud said.

&uot;It makes it more interesting if you find things like that,&uot; she said.

For the genealogists, researching their family history is not so much about filling in the family tree as it is about the stories of their parents and grandparents. Learning their history is a way to feel connected with relatives who have passed away. Lonning said he realized too late the questions he should have asked his grandparents about their lives and families.

&uot;I bet that half the people that come in here doing family research say that to me,&uot; Evenson said. &uot;They’re trying to find answers to the questions they wish they would have asked.&uot;

That’s another reason for doing a family history, members said. That way, the stories will be there when their own children become interested in their roots, and the information won’t be lost to the future.

The Freeborn County Historical Society gets about 900 genealogical inquiries a year, said Evenson. People call, write or visit from all over the world to find information on their ancestors. A lot of inquiries come from Western states, from families who continued their Westward journey after settling in Freeborn County for a while, she said.

The library will research information for a fee. right now, Evenson has more than a dozen inquiries on her desk.

&uot;I think we just keep getting busier,&uot; Evenson said. &uot;More information is available over the Internet, but I think that just whets people’s appetite.&uot;