Our origins have always been a source of human interest. For some it means researching our ancient ancestors back millions of years through anthropological digs. But for most people, the question is simpler. It begins with the naive, "Daddy, Mommy, where did I come from," when one is a child.
After the birds and the bees have been satisfied and life goes on, however, the yearning continues. Stories of grandma and grandpa abound, along with that of the crazy aunt and the great uncle who sailed from Europe with virtually no money in his pockets. It becomes a question of, "Who are my people?"
• Tony Kierna, Schaumburg Township District Library genealogy coordinator, 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Wednesday, 130 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg, (847) 923-3390, blogs at genealogywithtony.wordpress.com
• Genealogy Group Meeting, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the library, with speakers on research topics and research discussions
• Schaumburg Family History Center, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, 1320 W. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg, (847) 885-4130, e-mail fhc_Schaumburg@yahoo.com
That's the question that genealogy research attempts to answer. With the wealth of information available through the Internet, it's easier than ever to find out everything you've always wanted, and in some cases, didn't want to know about your family.
For many, these questions remains in the back of the mind until the kids are grown, the career at or near its end.
Tony Kierna, genealogy coordinator for the Schaumburg Township District Library, estimated that about 80 percent of individuals researching their family histories through the library are aged 60 and older, with a few people in their 40s and 50s.
"The most common comment I hear is 'I should have started this years ago,' " he said. "It's a curiosity for those who are heading toward their own mortality."
Albert Whiteside, director of the Latter Day Saints Family History Center in Schaumburg, another great local research resource, agreed that primarily older adults who have more dispensable time do the research, but noted that people of all ages pursue genealogy.
"You have a smaller number of (younger) people who want to be detectives and get excited about finding something about their family," Whiteside said. "We get Boy Scout and youth groups who come here to do research."
Newcomers, however, often want to forgo the basic steps. Armed with their grandparents' surnames, they want to find overseas ancestors, usually from one or more countries in Europe. That approach will get the budding genealogist nowhere. Like anything else, one has to start with the basics in this case gathering as much information as possible about parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins then work back in time from there.
"I would start with what you know information such as birth certificates and death certificates and work from there," Whiteside said.
Another component in initial genealogical research is to obtain oral histories from older family members who often have a wealth of information about their own parents, grandparents, and other family members who are long since deceased. If possible, these interviews should be recorded.
"When they (family members) first tell you something, your first instinct is that you want to disbelieve it," Kierna said. "Oftentimes, though, while the information may not be entirely accurate, they will remember enough that a kernel of truth is there."
Another common tendency is that people often start their search convinced that with a little bit of information they can go over to Europe and easily find their ancestors' records. That's also not a good idea because not only will one battle potential language barriers and unavailability of records, most of what can be researched is already available here in the United States.
Armed with basic family information, the nouveau genealogist is ready to begin serious research. Organizations such as the Schaumburg Township District Library Genealogy Group or the Schaumburg Family History Center can provide you with the basics on doing research as well as provide a sounding board for problems that may occur and like-minded people with whom you can share your successes.
The beauty of doing research at a locale such as the library or the Family History Center is that various tools are available through these organizations that serious genealogists will not be able to use on their own or have to pay hundreds of dollars to commercial websites.
One of these tools is Ancestry Plus, the library version of Ancestry.com. Libraries that subscribe to this service are able to tap into virtually the same information that the website provides to private customers. When researchers log on via a library website, however, the information is free.
On Ancestry Plus, researchers can find census and voter registration information, birth, death, and marriage certificates, military records, immigration and travel information, school and church directories. Another resource, Heritage Quest has Revolutionary War Era pension and bounty land application files, U.S. Serial Set, and the Freedman's Bank, which details records of former slaves.
Ancestry Plus and the Latter Day Saints Family History Centers are arguably the two largest resources available to family researchers.
Family History Centers have their own resources and access to files from the main storage center in Salt Lake City. The church has gone around the world to digitize genealogical and historical records. Volunteers transcribe highlighted information to provide a searchable online database.
Because most historical records are handwritten, Whiteside cautioned researchers not to get discouraged by spelling variances.
"Name changes and spelling differences are common, particularly among the immigrants who came in through Ellis Island," Whiteside said. "It's one of the things that should not be off putting that's the whole idea of why you do the legwork."
And there's the danger researchers may dig up family skeletons.
"But be prepared, you may find people of ill repute who were your ancestors," Kierna said.
Yet the journey is generally rewarding, particularly when a long-lost piece is found.
"Just as we grew up doing puzzles, it becomes an overwhelming desire as we age to fine those links and make the pieces fit," Whiteside said.