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Sleuthing for your history

Roger Saari just returned from Finland. He spent a month piecing together the puzzle of his past. "Digging up old bodies, finding a couple of live ones," said Saari, co-president of the Douglas County Genealogy Club. He's one of the nearly two do...

Roger Saari just returned from Finland. He spent a month piecing together the puzzle of his past.

"Digging up old bodies, finding a couple of live ones," said Saari, co-president of the Douglas County Genealogy Club. He's one of the nearly two dozen club members visiting courthouses, cemeteries and online databases in search of their ancestors.

"I think it's like being Sherlock Holmes," said Jan Resberg, Saari's co-president.

It's the number two hobby in America, the second most searched term on the internet. And it's all about you.

"The stories your ancestors have left behind," said Vicki Garro.

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"Don't you ever ask yourself 'Where did I come from? Who's my grandmother, who was her grandmother, what was she like, where did she come from?' Where does your family come from?" Resberg said.

If you don't start putting the stories together now, Saari said, who will? Not only is it about learning who you are and where you came from, Garro said, it's about leaving those stories of your ancestors to your children. Learning the importance of the bread crumbs left by ancestors - letters, journals, photos, legal papers, census records and more - can prompt genealogists to write about their own lives. The other day as Garro drove past the site of the former Stardusk Theater, her niece asked what it was. The young girl was intrigued by the concept of sitting in a car watching a drive-in movie.

"For me, it was part of growing up," Garro said. To her great-grandchildren, it will be history.

These Douglas County detectives are already delving hundreds of years in the past. Garro has traced her lines back to Swedish ancestors in the 1400s. Saari has reached back to find Finish ancestors in the 1700s. Resberg's lineage stretches back to Normandy in the 1200s. Club treasurer Marlene Case is still searching on this side of the ocean. She's uncovered her family tree back to the 1700s, ranging from Connecticut and Nebraska to Illinois and Ohio.

Genealogy searches can be long, and there may be dead ends on the way. But the chase, these sleuths said, is half the fun. And it can turn up unexpected bonds.

"Just this summer I found my seventh cousin," Case said.

Some people get frustrated when they go online to look for family ties.

"The important thing to realize about online searches is just because you didn't find it today doesn't mean it won't be there tomorrow," Garro said. On the other hand, she said, not everything is destined to be shared online. That means the search will take genealogists to churches, courthouses and historical societies in search of the tangible clues that document a relation. DNA searches have brought even more options to genealogists.

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It doesn't have to be a solitary occupation.

"I've found with genealogists, they're a very giving group," Garro said. "Everybody wants to help everybody find their family."

The Douglas County Genealogy Club is seeking new members. Dues are $10 a year, and the group meets at 5 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month, usually at the Superior Public Library. Everyone is welcome.

In addition, the club is hosting a fall conference, "Traveling the Records Road," on Oct. 13 at United Presbyterian Church, 229 N. 28th St., Superior. Speakers lead sessions on finding your family in the census, testing DNA to help in genealogy research and what records are available to help you find facts and stories about your ancestors. The sessions are perfect for both beginning sleuths and those who have been piecing together their family history for years, Garro said.

"One of the missions of our club is education," she said.

The cost for the conference is $25 for non-members, $20 for members of the Douglas County Genealogy Club. Lunch is available for $9, provided by Knowledge Seekers 4-H Club. Pre-registration is preferred. Call Case at (715) 399-8152 or email casebratpack@aol.com for further information or visit the website at http://dcgcwi.tripod.com/ for a registration blank.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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