Like many people in my generation, I have never given much thought to my ancestry. I remember a class project in elementary school where we had to interview someone in our family who was old. My mother did not respond well when I claimed her as the go-to person. She redirected me to my grandmother. Our conversation consisted of stories about people I'd never met, most of whom had died long before I was born. I recall being somewhat disappointed that it all was so dreadfully common. No scandals, no deposed royalty, no television stars.
My family was never very spread out. Like many Southerners, we tended to stick close to home. Thus, I can say with some confidence that I had more than enough family in my day-to-day life. I didn't need to go digging around for more. My father's side of the family still holds a reunion every year on Thanksgiving in his hometown of Screven, Ga. Because my family had moved out of Georgia to Jacksonville, Fla., we were considered sophisticated "city folk." At least that's what we told ourselves. I don't think it was ever corroborated. Regardless, we had enough relatives to satisfy anyone.
It's funny how things can change when you grow up. Life has a way of putting things into perspective for you and shifting your priorities. This summer my mom passed away after a long illness. Even though it was expected, it was still difficult to accept. I've spent the last few months thinking a lot about her, figuring out who she was and how to remember her. It usually takes a loss like this to help you remember that life is brief, and also to remember that we all remain connected.
Genealogy is great therapy. It takes a lot of time and a lot of concentration. Everyone has their own reasons for researching their family tree. Some seek lost family members, others seek birth parents or unknown families. Some are looking for health information for studying potential genetic concerns. Some are just curious! I want to connect. I want to find a way to remember my mom and preserve her memory. Fortunately, we have incredible genealogy resources in Omaha which have helped me get started on my quest.
The genealogy collection at Omaha Public Library is impressive. It is a great starting point to get your feet wet and, most importantly, there are plenty of people to help you on your journey. OPL has a partnership with the Greater Omaha Genealogical Society. Volunteers and library staff can help people with their questions and provide guidance and suggestions for anything from the most basic to more complex research. The collection includes thousands of genealogy reference works, reels of microfilm records and incredible online resources. OPL is now an official Family Search Affiliate Library, making the microfilm records of the LDS church available to anyone.
I started my search with the library's free subscription to Ancestry.com library edition. It is a great digital resource that can engage you quickly. I was impressed to see that my mom's obituary and other information is already in their collection. I got started easily with some very basic information. In-depth research like this will take years if not a lifetime, but it is a great start to what I hope will be a fascinating project. The physical genealogy collections are housed downtown at the W. Dale Clark Main Library, 215 S. 15th St., but you can access Ancestry.com and other online resources from any of the library's 12 locations.
OPL also hosts many workshops to help with genealogy research. Whether you are just getting started or are a seasoned pro, there is something and someone here to help you.
Today at 2 p.m. at the W. Dale Clark Library is a workshop about "Dating and Identifying your 19th-century photographs." Genealogist and photo historian Gail Blankenau will teach you how to use combinations of image type, fashions, photographers and your family tree to reveal the answers behind those intriguing faces. The third annual genealogy lock-in is coming up Sept. 30, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. You can register for these and other great genealogy programs online at omahalibrary.org.
I'm still a little sad that I have not yet unearthed any scandals or untold wealth in my family tree. I will keep looking.
Gary Wasdin is the executive director of the Omaha Public Library.