What should people know about genealogy research?

Genealogy specialist Debra Dudek was enlisted to help a woman find where her late father was buried.

"There had been a divorce and she didn't know what happened to him," related Dudek, head of adult and teen services for Bolingbrook's Fountaindale Public Library District.

A project she thought would take a matter of weeks stretched into a couple of years, with the woman eventually learning she had seven half-siblings.

"That was a case that ended up being one of the more rewarding cases I worked," she said.

Dudek will share helpful tools of the trade in her program Beyond Ancestry at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, at the Hinsdale Public Library (see Page 24 for details).

Even before online websites offered easy access to local, state and federal records, resources like military pensions, land bounty applications and military service files provided windows into the past, Dudek explained.

"Beyond Ancestry is really great for anybody who has either begun conducting genealogy research or is interested in expanding on some fundamental skills," she said. "It's designed to give people a lot of options and show how to find some of the underused resources."

The well-known site is a good jumping off point but not an "all-you-can-eat buffet" for everyone, Dudek remarked, "depending on your ethnic background or your religious affiliation or how your family moved across the country or from a different country."

And then there's the issue of verification. "There's a lot of information that doesn't have a receipt," she said, citing erroneous postings she came across when researching her own lineage.

As her grandmother's research assistant in the pre-Internet era, Dudek was largely in charge of corresponding with far-flung relatives to gather historical information on the family which eventually became a volume known as "The Book."

Years later while a graduate student in Scotland, she took a class on genealogical research that reignited her interest - and led her

to her Scottish kin.

"I got to meet a group of relatives who never knew my grandmother but knew of her through my great-grandmother's letters," she said.

Dudek relishes guiding others in responding to, in her words, "the invisible call to the past."

"I want to make sure that everyone that feels that call receives a really solid foundation so they can find answers and find closure," she said.

Free online archives like Google Books, the Library of Congress and the National Archives are easy on the budget. Others sites might carry a subscription fee.

"We do want to make sure that people aren't busting the bank," she said, "What information can we use to propel this research forward?"

Participants in Beyond Ancestry will learn how to fill out a family group sheet, a pedigree chart and a research checklist. So whether preparing for a family reunion or simply keen on leaving a gift for posterity, people can get a more meaningful handle on their heritage.

"They gain a deeper understanding of where they've come from, where they are and where they're going." - by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean