Have you seen the ads on T.V. about researching your ancestors on Ancestry.com? Bekkum Library, and the other Winding Rivers Library System member libraries, are now making it possible for you to do family history research free at your local library through two large internet databases.
Heritage Quest is available through the state-wide database, BadgerLink. When you have accessed Badgerlink’s front page, click on “Library Card Access” on the right side of the screen. You will be prompted to choose you library from a dropdown menu, then to enter your library barcode number and login. On the next screen, scroll down to click on “HeritageQuest Online.” This website contains several types of data and is easy to search. You may search for your ancestors one by one by name in any of the data sets available. Always try more than one! One of the limitations of Heritage Quest is spelling: if you enter your ancestor, John Smidt, but in the census for example, his name was misspelled John Smitt, you will not find him on Heritage Quest unless you enter, one at a time, as many spelling variants as you can think of, and happen to guess the one the census-taker used.
Ancestry.com is available for you use only at the library. It contains more kinds of information than Heritage Quest, and finds “approximate” answers as well as exact answers, e.g. persons with exact spelling you enter, plus variant spellings of the names you enter. Ancestry.com is somewhat more complicated to learn to search well.
If you do find documents about your family, you may print them for .25/page at the library.
To prepare for researching your family history, first write down what you know. Preparation before you come to the library will make your research more efficient, and more likely to be successful. The best way to summarize the information you already have is to fill out a “pedigree diagram.” We have some of these available at the circulation desk, simply ask the staff. If you are married, make a copy of the pedigree and fill one out for your spouse too. There are spaces for parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Place and dates of birth, marriage and death are used. Talk to family members; look in old diaries, photo albums, keepsake boxes, and the family Bible. You might need to visit cemeteries and read dates from tombstones. The more information you can collect in these ways, the better your chances of learning more during online research. Don’t worry if you cannot fill in the pedigree completely—most people can’t. Bring what you have to the library, and get started! If you are doing a lot of research, you might like to use one of the laptop computers and set up all your notes etc. on one of our worktables. We would be happy to give you extended computer time to work, especially during the day. Computers have a tendency to be very busy after school lets out!
Thanks to Jean Ruhser on the staff of Galesville Public Library for her assistance with this article.