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FAMILY HISTORY: An abundance of information is available to help find your roots

Published 04/10/2007, HISTORY: An abundance of information is available to help find your roots

So if you’re thinking about embarking on a journey through the generations, be prepared to spend a while visiting many sites along the way.

“For many people, gathering their family’s history is a life-long endeavor,” says Sandy Slater, head of the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections at UND’s Chester Fritz Library. Often people will start researching, stop for some reason, and then begin again.

“I’m always sort of looking for the next little piece,” says Slater, who has done extensive research on her own family’s history. It’s OK to take a break now and then.

“Sometimes when you set it aside and think about it, you might have a flash,” Slater says.

Getting started

One of the best places people can begin the search for their ancestors is in their own homes — with themselves.

“They need to start with themselves and go backwards,” Slater says. Filling out a “pedigree” chart is the simplest way to do that and helps the researcher find out where the “holes” are in the family history, Slater notes.

Family Bibles and records of milestone events such as baptisms, funeral notices and obituaries are helpful resources for filling in the blanks of the chart, Slater says.

“(They are) things that you and I may hold,” she says. If those items aren’t available in your own home, they probably will be in another family member’s.

“There usually is a keeper of the records of the family,” she notes.


Once some information has been compiled, libraries that specialize in historic research, such as UND’s Department of Special Collections, have experts who are available to help family historians get started, and have an abundance of information sources available.

The Chester Fritz Library’s Department of Special Collections, for example, has published a directory called a “Guide to Norwegian Bygdeboker.” The guide lists the holdings of the library’s holdings of the more than 1,000 volumes in its Bygdebok Collection.

The library also has school records, marriage and coroner records for Grand Forks County. Another good place to look for information is newspapers, Slater says. Area obituaries printed in North Dakota’s major newspapers are available to researchers who visit her department. Other sources

Meanwhile, there’s also a wealth of information in small-town newspapers, Slater says. The State Historical Society of North Dakota has early copies of those available.

The State Historical Society has issues on hand from Dakota Territory as early as 1864 and many from 1872 to the present, according to the society’s Web site. Newspaper titles may be searched using the Online Dakota Information Network or by going to the society’s Web site and clicking on the county in which it was published, then selecting the city or town, the Web site information says.

The newspapers are arranged alphabetically by title, and the listings include microfilm roll numbers for interlibrary loan requests.

People who are comfortable with using a computer also can conduct research on family history online, Slater says.

“We have three public computers. We can sit with people and instruct them.” A data-based Web site called “WorldCat,” which many public libraries subscribe to, for example, will give researchers information on whether there already has been work published on that particular family’s history.

Collecting information about family history is not an easy job, but it can be rewarding.

“It does take perseverance and persistence.

“When you discover something unexpectedly, it just gives you a little boost and makes it all worthwhile, and gives you motivation to find the next little piece of the puzzle,” Slater says.

Ann Bailey writes for Recollections. Reach her by phone at (701) 787-6753, (800) 477-6572, ext. 753 or e-mail her at abailey@gfherald.com.

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