Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
Genealogists excited for new free service at Fairfield library
FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Public Library has announced that library patrons can now access the website Ancestry.com for free.
Fairfield Public Library Director Al Schmidt Mickunas announced that the service, which normally requires a paid subscription to use, will be free for those who access the site from a library computer, or for those who bring a laptop to the library.
That news was received like mana from heaven by the Fairfield Genealogy Club, which holds monthly meetings at the library. The group, which formed last fall and whose meetings attract about 10 people each time, said this new free service will be a game-changer for residents who want to research their family tree.
Barbara Rainbow, who leads the genealogy club, said those wishing to dig into their family’s past usually had to go to where the family lived, where they would look up information in huge books at the local courthouse, for instance. Now that websites like Ancestry.com have made it possible to find that information on the web, a Fairfield resident no longer needs to leave town to unearth facts about their ancestors.
“Even if you aren’t from Fairfield and you want to research your ancestors, you can do it right here,” Rainbow said. “You can share your family story with other people who can’t come here. That’s where I’d like to help the Fairfield community make their family stories more readily available.”
Ivana Kurtz said she’s been coming to the genealogy club’s meetings to learn how to get the most from Ancestry.com and other research tools. She said she discovered some old photos of her ancestors that other people posted to the website.
“These were photos of great-great grandparents that were just beautiful,” she said. “Most of my family is from here and around Washington, while my husband’s family is from the Pleasant Plain area.”
Another member of the club, Mary Meyer, said she became interested in her family’s history upon the passing of her mother in 1987. In the years since, she became her family’s unofficial genealogist and historian. She sought to preserve as much family history as she could, so she traveled to St. Louis to interview four of her aunts about their family tree.
“I also took a correspondence course on genealogy, about how to do it the old way, on paper,” Meyer said. “I still have most of my records in three-ring binders.”
Meyer said one of the mysteries she wanted to solve was why her great-grandfather, Gervase Schneider, harbored such ill will toward the Schulte family. She heard that her great-grandfather once said, “Those Schultes will burn in hell for the way they treated me.”
Though it took much effort, she finally found the Schulte family her great-grandfather was referring to. It turned out that Gervase was part Native American, and the Schulte family was responsible for raising him, though he was a stepson to them.
“They didn’t treat him right because he was dark skinned,” Meyer said.
Rainbow said the advent of DNA testing has allowed people to learn even more about their past. She did a DNA test and discovered that she is 30 percent Scottish, while her siblings did the same thing and learned they are only 15 percent Scottish.
Club member Patsy Angstead said DNA testing allowed her family to connect with a relative they never knew they had.
“One day, my cousin calls me and says, ‘Sit down, get a piece of paper, and listen,’” she said.
This cousin, who was also interested in researching genealogy, had learned that a woman from Oregon wanted to contact him about his family tree, because she learned her grandfather had been adopted from a family in Missouri. Angstead said that she and her cousin discovered that their grandparents had had a baby before they were married, and gave it up for adoption without telling the family.
The man in Oregon was never able to find his biological parents, but he told his granddaughter to keep looking for the family, and through DNA, she was able to find them.
“What was so exciting about it is that the granddaughter sent us a picture [of her grandfather], and he looked so much like grandpa,” Angstead said. “There was no doubt.”
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org