Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 21, 2013

Group searches for family clues

By GRETCHEN MURRAY Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY -- Popular television shows like TLC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Area’ and PBS’ ‘Genealogy Roadshow’, are among the sources spurring an interest among many to explore the family tree.

Locally, members of the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society point researchers to the Traverse Area District Library and Special Collections Librarian Amy Barritt as a good place to get started.

Barritt tends the ever-expanding collection of books, periodicals, newsletters, reels of microfilm, microfiche and CDs that contain a wide variety of records, resources and how-tos on genealogical research that are housed on the second floor of the library’s Woodmere Avenue branch.

“The collection was donated by the genealogical society, and I work closely with the GTAGS members concerning their ongoing support of the collection here at the Woodmere Branch,” Barritt said. “Recently, a number of library patrons expressed interest in a basic genealogy program, and we were thrilled that GTAGS members, as local experts, were willing to take the lead.”

Many of the participants who attended the recent program already began online searches for clues to their past and were there to learn additional ways to advance their search. The genealogy club’s research buffs offered tips on using newspapers, navigating cemeteries and researching through lineage societies like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

“Some of our members spent years walking through the area’s cemeteries painstakingly recording information found on the headstones,” said GTAGS member Kathy Farley. “I love cemeteries and I often walk through them because I find such interesting histories there.”

Farley said GTAGS members have ‘read’ all the cemeteries in Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties and collected nearly 60,000 surnames they compiled into a searchable database.

Members of the local Job Winslow Chapter of The Daughters of the American Revolution were available to help search through their vast online library that is open to the public at, while Tom Jenkins, a member of Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War’s Michigan chapter, told participants how to search through his organization’s data.

Jenkins, a grave registration officer with the Michigan organization, said 254 Civil War graves have been identified and recorded in Traverse City’s Oakwood Cemetery alone.

"We provide the service to relatives who don’t know much about their ancestors who fought in the Civil War because we’re concerned that Civil War vets are being forgotten,” he said.

Researching family ancestry is a satisfying pastime, especially when it produces results like it did for Sandie McClain, chapter regent for the Job Winslow Chapter of the DAR.

“I was living in Southern California and did my own online research for information on my mother’s family,” she said. “My mother’s mother, Helen Phelps, died when my mother was an infant. We didn’t know her family at all. In 2005 I had moved to Michigan, and I found information that her mother and father met in Gladwin.”

McClain went to Gladwin to do research one weekend and found the link she sought.

“It happened that the Gladwin Genealogical Society was holding Log Cabin Days. I asked people if anyone knew my grandfather, and a woman in her 90s told me that she remembered my grandmother. In fact, my grandmother had been a teacher had taught this woman Latin. I actually found someone who knew her, and realized at that moment I knew more about my grandmother than my mother ever did.”

Finding that link to the past was a profound experience for McClain. “It gives you a grounding of who you are on the planet,” she said. “There’s a little bit of that person in you, and makes you realize you’re what’s left.”