Open house aims to trace family histories

High-tech aids go a long way to helping find elusive ancestors

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Researching the family tree used to be limited to leafing through dusty records, deciphering weathered headstones and combing the attic.

Now, like most other subjects, genealogy has gone modern with computer research and e-mails to possible relatives around the globe.

"I've seen genealogical research go from microfilm to microfiche, to computers and CDs," said Dick Kent, a 16-year member and the president of the Gastineau Genealogical Society.

"But all of the information that a researcher finds on the computer must be validated; resources need to be cited," he said. "Otherwise there is no way to tell if the information is accurate."

Kent will be one of the speakers at an open house from 1-3 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, at Fourth and Main streets. He will discuss computer research software. He will be joined for the event by Marie Darlin and other members of Pioneer Book Committee.

"We are not going to have a formal presentation, but I will have a copy of the Danish immigration records from 1863 to 1903, and a copy of U.S. war pensions from the Revolutionary War, Civil War or any of the Indian wars. The pensions list gives a volume and a page number so you can go into the national records that are relevant," Kent said.

Kent and his wife, Marie Kent, have been indexing Juneau mine personnel records laboriously, and will have records for several of the first letters of the alphabet. "Unfortunately, they don't start until about 1914," he said.

"We are going to have members of the (genealogical) society here so you can talk one-on-one to people about your particular needs," Kent said.

Kent also has invited Gary and Karen Kostenko, the new directors of the Family History Center of the Church of Latter-day Saints. The church is renowned for the genealogical information it has compiled and computerized.

Darlin was chairman of the Pioneer Book Committee, which recently completed the local, award-winning history, "Gastineau Channel Memories, 1880-1959."

"I have been working on genealogy at least 20 years," Darlin said. "I went to Finland in 1998 with a cousin from Ketchikan when we found some members of my maternal grandmother's family over there. It was amazing what information the church there had, and our relatives had postcards, letters and pictures my mother had sent them.

"Genealogy is a long process, and you always find out things you had no idea about," Darlin said. "It's not just dates and places. It's stories, too."

City museum Curator Mary Pat Wyatt was scheduled to discuss research resources available at the museum, but she had to leave Juneau to visit a family member who is ill. These resources include local burial and cemetery records, historic surveys, phone books, high school yearbooks and other documents and photographs.

The Gastineau Genealogical society is a non-denominational organization that helps locate research sources. For hands-on exploring Saturday, the society will supply a computer terminal for browsing. Probate records from the Princess Sophia (a famous shipwreck) and Alaska death records that include the 24,000 people in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush also will be available for browsing.

The Pioneer Book Committee will bring a copy of the letter they sent to 1,000 former residents as a guide for quizzing relatives. The letter includes aids to prompt sluggish memories.

Admission to the museum is free by the donation of Harold Fossum in memory of his late wife, Helen. For more information, call 586-3572.

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