Who's Your Daddy? Genealogy Surges During Pandemic
Last updated 8/31/2021 at 8:34pm | View PDF
In the quest to fill time while in pandemic isolation, and more importantly find a sustainable senior hobby, we turn to the time-consuming yet injury-avoidant pursuit of genealogy.
And I quickly find the inability to answer Jeopardy-like questions such as "Where did Grandma and Grandpa move here from?" So it was time to turn to the experts, the Genealogical Room inside the Tulare Public Library.
It's a place renown for the resources available to the general public, which not only includes volunteers to assist newbies with their Leonard Nimoy-like excursions, but also offers free access to the well-known website Ancestry.com. According to the City of Tulare website, the room has one of the largest collections of genealogical materials in Central California. That includes scores of area newspapers on mirofilm dating back to 1892, and more than 7,000 volumes of various genealogy-related reference books and publications.
"We've had people from Fresno to Bakersfield come use the room," said Dan Van Weerdhuizen, vice president of the Sequoia Genealogy Society, whose main role, among other things, is to find speakers for the society's monthly meetings. Dan, a former radio ad salesman, has quite a passion for genealogy that includes an enthusiasm that could sell heaters to Hawaiians.
While Wikipedia defines genealogy as "the study of families, family history and the tracing of their lineages," Dan describes it a little differently.
"It's a sickness," he said. "You get hooked and just keep going.
"Say you want to find who your mother's grandfather was," he continued. "(The volunteers) can find him and four generations back, where he was born, and who his brothers were and where they might be buried. And there's a chance, if it's available, they could have pictures of the marker."
But he warned that not all searches end in good news.
"You could find out more than you want to find out," he said. "We help you find your in-laws as well as your outlaws."
In addition to the county-provided birth, death and marriage certificates, as well as cemetery indexes, the genealogy room offers assistance, helping to steer explorers toward their desired destination. It all starts at the same place, with the basics, long before you'll dig into city phone directories or census data.
"The first thing I'll do is give you one of these," said society president Lorene Clark, holding up a large piece of paper resembling a March Madness basketball bracket. "It's an ancestor chart. It has places where you can start with you or your mother or father."
Beginners take the chart home and fill out as much information as they know about their lineage, including when they were born, when they were married, when they died.
"It's amazing how far back you can go, or what usually happens is that it doesn't take long and you'll end up with gaps (in the information)," she said. "Those gaps are what we help you fill in. It's what I call your homework."
Once the chart is completed as much as possible and is brought back, the volunteer helps show where someone can turn to help fill in the missing information.
For those inclined to work without help, there are seemingly countless data sources that can be used to find a variety of information about someone in the past. One such resource is access to Ancestry.com, which is paid for by the library. "There's also several (other websites) the society helps pay for to make available to people to research."
Most of the books and materials in the room are reference books, which aren't available to take home. However, there is a small collection of books about genealogy or local history that are available for check out.
While the sign above the door says "Hillman Family Library of Local History & Genealogy," the compendium is owned and managed, and the room staffed for the library by the Sequoia Genealogical Society. It is located at the far south end of the Tulare Public Library at 475 North M Street in Tulare, and appointments are required. The room has a limit of two patrons at a time, and is open to the public from Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m.
The Sequoia Genealogy Society was incorporated in 1973 and is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and offers annual memberships for $20, or a lifetime membership for $100, and uses the money to purchase additional resources to make available to the public. During months when not shut down by the COVID pandemic, the society holds monthly meetings that include speakers.
You do not need to be a member to use the room, but there can be small fees when things like copies or prints from microfilm readers are requested. Extensive research such as requesting society volunteers spend time researching elsewhere at places like the County Courthouse would result in possible charges.
"We do get quite a few people from out of town who may have lived here at one time who ask what they can do," said Clark, adding that they can be helped as well. In such instances interested individuals can email requests for help at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Genealogy Room at (559) 685-4518.
Written correspondence can be sent to the society at PO Box 820, Tulare, CA 93275.
And then there are the stories of remarkable finds.
One such incident was over the loss of a Purple Heart medal. Discovered in a Bakersfield pawn shop by a man who purchased the medal that was inscribed with the soldier's name, he reached out for help trying to track down the recipient's family.
"An ROTC group at a Bakersfield High School got involved trying to find out who this solder was," said Clark."They contacted the Genealogy Room right here in Tulare. One of our volunteers took down their information and started doing a lot of research and was eventually able to track down his family in Kings County," she said, adding that the medal was able to be returned to the family, drawing media attention to the story at the time.
"Sometimes people come in wanting to do research and they don't even know the name of their grandparents," she said. "One lady came in, after doing a lot of research and one day said, 'There they are. There's my family.' Tears were running down her face. We know how important this is to them."
For more information or to make an appointment, call (559) 685-4518 or the library's main number at (559) 685-4500.