Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#16. Trace your Indiana Roots

I have a pretty sizable family. My dad is one of nine children and my mother one of five. I have more first cousins than some football teams have players. My grandparents all had at least three siblings and their progeny have been very bountiful.

Approximately 98 percent of my numerous relatives live in Indiana. The Indy Monthly article asks "How Hoosier are you?" I always knew the answer was: very; however, I never knew what I was besides Hoosier. Sure, I knew that I had German and Irish ancestry like every other white person living in the U.S. but everything else was very vague. Sometimes I would be told I had ancestors from Czechoslavakia, other times Yugoslavia, still others England or Austria. In high school, my Spanish teacher informed me that I was actually Slovenian. (She grew up down the street from my grandpa in a heavily Slavic area.) Even though borders in Eastern Europe have been crazy for years, I wanted concrete answers.

I found them, sort of, at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. The library's genealogical center is one of the best resources in North America for tracing family history. Powerful genealogical databases, microfiche, microfilm and printed volumes fill the center with loads of information for family tree makers.

Allen County Public Library genealogical center
The center is probably most useful to hardcore genealogists. A woman standing in line beside me at the Help desk was looking for information on a really distant relative from the 1700s. She traveled to the Center from another state after finding information in a cemetery in Maryland. As a rookie looking for information on my paternal great-grandfather I felt a little out of my league. Even the librarians knew I was a noob; they gave me a family tree diagram I remember using for a project in first grade, complete with colored illustrations.

The library handout wasn't quite this elementary, but it was close
Nonetheless, I had a great time researching my family history. I focused on my dad's side of the family because my mom's relatives are really aware of their ancestry. My maternal grandma, who accompanied me on the trip, even brought several books of family trees and demonstrated a real talent for remembering names and complicated familial ties.

Every time I would make a discovery I felt strangely accomplished. It was like putting together a never-ending puzzle that involved a lot of dead ends and parsing of old documents. This may not sound like fun, but it was to me.

Volumes in the Genealogical Center
I discovered some interesting things. For example, I now understand the confusion over my heritage. Records showed relatives who immigrated from Yugoslavia, Croatia and Austria. All of the regions they hailed from are now Slovenia. I also found a picture of my great-great grandfather's Indianapolis grocery store with an address; I think it would be interesting to visit the location sometime soon to compare the differences.

Some of my great-great aunts and uncles standing in front of my great-great grandfather's grocery store
Some discoveries were weird. I found that a woman who I believed was either the mother or guardian of my great-great grandpa was an inmate at an insane asylum. I wasn't able to find much about my paternal great-grandfather beyond his year of immigration; there was a 23-year gap between his year of immigration and the first U.S. Census in which I could find him mentioned.

Example of 1930 U.S. Census sheet
All of these discoveries, both good and bad, raise questions. I want to verify discoveries with my elderly relatives and wrack their memories for stories. I've already learned new things from my grandma and dad because of this visit and I look forward to talking to my other grandparents and family members to learn more.

Researching family history has an odd draw. I'm not sure if its appeal lies in the challenge, the discovery your roots, or comfort in knowing future generations may remember and search for you just as you search for long-dead relatives. Whatever the reason, myself and others will continue to trace family relations with the resources of the Allen County Public Library's genealogical center.

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