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Shaking Your Family Tree

Using Hometown Papers to Your Best Advantage


In the Madison Courier of Jefferson County, Ind., George H. Miller's genealogical column is known as Family Trees, while the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald features Family Trails written by Lesta Westmore. Genealogical columns are popular features appearng in hundreds of newspapers throughout the United States.

This column deals only with research problems. However, many others accept queries pertaining to families who live--or once lived--in their locales. By sending your queries to such columns, you may locate people with family connections or knowledge you could never find otherwise.

Genealogical columns are read by former residents of a locale and history buffs, as well as genealogists. If you are stumped on a line, they can be the source to locate others with data about your family.

Most genealogical columns run free queries, but they have specific requirements. Follow the guidelines of the columnist in preparing your queries. These requirements are listed in Anita Cheek Milner's Newspaper Genealogical Column Directory, which is arranged by state and then county.

Let's say you have a line traced back to Jackson County, Mississippi, and would like to locate cousins who might know something about your family. Milner's Directory lists "Genealogy," by Regina Hines, CGRS (certified genealogy records searcher), whose weekly column appears in the the Sun Herald. This columnist accepts queries about families who lived throughout Mississippi, Southern Louisiana and Alabama.

Perhaps you have Hoosier ancestors. If so, send your query to Vicktoria Hizer, who writes Indiana Ancestors. Her column appears weekly in the Indianapolis Star. Your query must mention Indiana and be limited to 50 words, plus dates, and include sender's name and address. Send one query per letter, clearly stated, with typed or printed surnames.

When writing queries, be sure to give the complete name of the person you are researching and dates of importance (birth, marriage, where they lived, death). This is imperative because, surprisingly, there may have been several Thomas Swifts who lived in Marion County, Indiana, in the 1840s.

If your Thomas Swift was married to an Elizabeth Applegate, say so. It will distinguish your Swift from mine who married Amy Vanderpool. If your family came to Indiana from New York, include this information because it further identifies your Swift line.

If the column you submit your query to is a weekly one, consider subscribing to that newspaper for a year. The cost of a year's subscription to a small weekly newspaper often is less than $10 per year. Daily newspapers, of course, are more expensive.

Many people subscribe to their hometown newspaper, and its most popular feature is often the genealogy column. You may hear from readers who are not genealogists, but who have great-grandma's family Bible or who know valuable information about your family.

To be successful in using genealogical columns, write your query so that it completely identifies your family. It is better to give too much information than not enough. An example of a good query reads like this:

Researching the family of John O'Kelley (1830-1902) and Cynthia Sherwood (1835-1910) who married in Breathitt County, Ky., about 1855 and moved to Christian County, Mo., in 1867. They had children: John, Michael, Mary, Colleen, Catherine, Alan and Bridget. Will exchange information.

Newspaper genealogical columns are valuable sources. Use them to find your distant cousins and others researching the same lines.

Milner's latest Newspaper Genealogical Column Directory is available from Heritage Books, 1540 E. Pointer Ridge Place, Bowie, Md. 20716. Cost is $9.50 postpaid.

For Myra Gormley's beginner's how-to genealogy kit (with charts) send $4 to Kit, Box 64316, Tacoma, Wash. 98464.

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