Studying genealogy

This week I joined the Wisconsin Historical Society and signed up for four Saturday morning classes in genealogy scheduled for March and April.  WHS has a museum on the Capitol square as well as a library and archives on the UW campus. They offers classes in beginning genealogy to help people get started in tracking their ancestry — that’s the first class. A second class gets into the specifics of using newspapers and periodicals — how to find what you’re looking for and make the best use of the detail contained in them. A third class teaches how to best use ancestry.com and familysearch.com, two of the best genealogical websites in a computer lab format where you learn how to use these websites most efficiently. And the last class I’m taking is called preserving and organizing your photos —  a hands-on workshop that provides a basic overview of the types of photographic processes that make up family collections, how to identify them, appropriate storage techniques and containers, and strategies for organizing and accessing the images that make up your family history. I’m most intrigued by all of it, but especially that last one since I’ve been doing exactly that for over a decade now. But I think there’s more to learn, and I’m excited to have a structured exposure to things I’ve been learning about informally for years.

My parents were avid image-collectors. My dad began taking photographs as a teenager with a Brownie camera back in the 1930s. I now have his entire collection. Although my mother was not much of a photographer, she was a rigid documentarian who made sure that each photograph was labeled with who, what & when. I’ve been making photo scrapbook albums since childhood, but making the safe kind only for the past 10 years or so. The digital revolution was a severe jolt to my comfort zone, but I’ve recovered and now navigate comfortably with editing, organizing, printing and album-making.

Then there’s the family history stuff. Someone else with my last name traced the family name back to 1715 in upstate NY. I found out that one of my direct-line ancestors was killed by Indians on the Hoosac River and another one died at the Battle of Bennington — although he was of Dutch ancestry, he fought on the British side. After the war, his family was forced to move to Canada. There are many more stories. So I do have some roots back there in New York State. Even if I don’t live there.

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