News and Tribune

June 10, 2014

BEAM: Mysteries of our histories


— At the very heart of our existence, we yearn to know where we come from. A divine creator? The Big Bang? A bacteria in the primordial sea?

The ladies of the Southern Indiana Genealogical Society might not be able to answer those age-old questions, but they do have the keys to unlocking some of our more immediate pasts. And for 35 years, the group has been sharing their knowledge so locals can discover the who, where and when in which they and their descendants came to be.

“There are probably hundreds of people who wouldn’t know their ancestors are from this area,” said New Albany resident and SIGS member Donna Foster.

Foster and others from SIGS want to help people discover their past while documenting it for generations to come. That’s one of the reasons the organization has started the First Families of Floyd, Clark and Harrison Counties project.

Anyone who can prove a direct lineage to a settler living in one of the three counties prior to Dec. 31, 1840, is eligible for membership. The program charges $15 to register your first descendent, and $5 for each additional person.

In October, approved applicants will be awarded First Family certificates from SIGS at a “History and Heritage Celebration.” Last year, more than 60 were honored during the First Families of Floyd County program that was held in conjunction with the New Albany Bicentennial celebration.

Discovering your ancestors has become easier than ever before, yet many don’t know basic information about their past. According to a 2007 survey conducted by the genealogy website ancestry.com, half of Americans only know at least one of their great grandparent’s names and almost one in four have no knowledge of what either of their grandfathers did for a living. Still, 78 percent of those surveyed agreed they would like to know more about their family history.

Luckily SIGS and libraries throughout the community can help them do that.

But first things first. People need some basic knowledge to get the logs of their family trees rolling. Allison Fredrickson, the genealogy and local history historian at the Jeffersonville Township Public Library, suggested starting with the people closest to you in both genetics and shared history — your kinfolk.

“Talk to your family. That’s always the first thing I tell people,” Fredrickson said. “Talk to the oldest person in your family to see if they know anything.”

Once you have some background, research can begin. Nowadays, people tend to go online to genealogy websites that promise huge databases without leaving the comfort of your home. However, Foster cautioned against taking the information provided from the Internet as truth. Other supporting documents, such as Census records, wills or birth certificates, must be established that verify the relation.

“The Internet is a tool to use, but that’s all it is, just a tool,” Foster said. “There’s more to the picture than what you’re going to find on Ancestry(.com).”

Local libraries and clubs like SIGS bridge that gap. The nonprofit has spent hundreds of hours compiling surnames and other data into easy-to-read books as well as other research. Both the club members and librarians like Fredrickson look forward to connecting new genealogists with the resources they need to connect the past with the present, and for some, the future.

“Family is everything. The more I know about my family and the past and the more my future family knows about the past family, the more I think they’ll understand who they are and where they’ll come from,” said SIGS treasurer and Floyd County resident Tina Price. “It’s important to know where you came from to understand where you are going.”

For those interested in more information about the First Families program or how to research your family history, contact SIGS by email at sigsvolunteer@gmail.com or by phone at 812-949-3527. The club also holds meetings and other presentations the first Thursday of every month beginning at 7 p.m. at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library.

While it costs $15 to officially join the club, all meetings are free and open to the public.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com