Story and photo by Susan Mikula Campbell
If you like puzzles, enjoy history or are curious about that older relative's claim of being a cousin to Scotland's Duke of Argyll, genealogy and growing your own family tree might be the hobby for you.
New technology is changing genealogy just like it's changing everything else these days. Those interested in finding their personal histories don't have to spend a lot of time searching dusty old tomes when there's a computer available.
"It's a lot different than it used to be just 10 to 15 years ago," said Michelle Kratts, genealogist at the Lewiston Public Library. "Because there is so much technology at our fingertips, it's much easier to find what we need."
Kratts brought fellow genealogist Lou Omel to Lewiston March 22 to speak about the latest changes in the ancestry.com program, which is available by subscription or for free use on computers at a number of Niagara County libraries, especially the larger ones like Lewiston, Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda, and Grand Island.
Interest in genealogy is growing, and not just with people looking to find a golden apple on their family tree or older people with time to do research. Young people, comfortable with technology are taking a look, too.
"It's such a popular thing now ... More people are doing genealogy as a hobby than ever before," Kratts said. "Regular, everyday Americans are realizing that they have an interesting history, too."
Omel, a librarian from the Family History Center in Williamsville, said genealogy is a lot easier when you can call up information from your home computer while still in robe and slippers.
Omel advised people who are just thinking about starting genealogy research to start at their libraries before signing up for online genealogy subscriptions, which can be expensive. Check on things like worldwide vital statistics, census information and newspapers through various library programs available. Find information posted in a language you don't understand - Google offers a translation tool. You can even find the name of the ship a relative who came from Europe to Ellis Island sailed on or pinpoint areas in the world today that have the highest concentration of people with the same last name as yours.
Ancestry.com isn't the only major computer program offering worldwide information for genealogists at the Lewiston Library. Lewiston is now an affiliate with Family Search (the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). "People can order any of the billions of microfilms and have it sent here," Kratts said.
Libraries of all sizes usually have various local records available, as well, for people who have caught the genealogy bug.
Maureen Weber of Lewiston said she remembers questioning her father about things he would say about his background when she was just a little girl. She didn't get serious about digging into her family tree until more and more records started becoming available online. Now, even relatives in their 30s are coming to her for background information.
"It's been really a lot of fun doing it (the research), she said. "It's like being a private detective."
Pictured: Maureen Weber of Lewiston talks with Lou Omel about her genealogy research after a recent program at the Lewiston Public Library.