Genealogical research is not reserved for the elderly. But older people do have the time, knowledge and responsibility to hand down precious information to perpetuate their family's history.
According to the April issue of American Demographics magazine, 18 generations, each 20-25 years in length, have lived in America since the 1620s. Moreover, today's "G.I. Generation" of active elderly age 66 and older, will decline in influence in the next decade.
Lois Burlo, education chairwoman of the Conejo Valley Genealogical Society advised: "Unless you want people a hundred years from now to think that you were a rock 'n' roller with green spiked hair, you better start recording your story and your grandfathers' story."
Besides setting the record straight, genealogical research can help to establish a line for inheritance or to identify health risks associated with hereditary diseases. But most people pursue knowledge of their ancestry for fun. Burlo said, "Genealogy is the second- or third-most-popular hobby."
There are two clubs and many resources in Ventura County to assist you. The Conejo Valley Genealogical Society and the Ventura County Genealogical Society, both of which meet monthly, teach genealogical research techniques and buy related materials for local libraries. They also sponsor speakers, seminars and field trips. Look for their newsletters at local libraries.
There are also computer programs, in a range of prices beginning at about $35, designed to research or record family history and pedigree charts. Club members can help you use this software at a library computer station. In addition, two useful magazines, Genealogical Computing, and The Genealogical Helper are available at some libraries including the Thousand Oaks Library.
According to Helen Stinson, a professional genealogist from Moorpark whose books are widely used by libraries and genealogical centers, much can be done at home, by phone or mail, to begin research.
First, Stinson advises, assemble a pedigree chart, showing the family groups of your father and mother. Interview older relatives, especially "in-laws," about family secrets such as illegitimate births.
Assemble photos that identify the people, the place, and include at least an approximate date. Seek newspaper clippings and family Bibles for dates of births, deaths and anniversaries. Be alert to religious affiliation for church records, and name changes due to immigration or marriages.
Locate family cemeteries for information that can be found on tombstones. Examine military papers and property records. Finally, Stinson said, a person's occupation can lead to information.
Joan Butler, 50, a flight attendant from Westlake Village, said she has "gotten hooked" and has become a good detective. "As you do genealogy, you find there is a human factor. But there's no one alive to tell you what happened, so you read history books about the period and then start reading sideways. It's like a soap opera."
For some help in charting your own family's past:
* The Conejo Valley Genealogical Society meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. in the large meeting room of the Thousand Oaks Library, 1401 E. Janss Road. The beginners class meets from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Cost: $4 one-time registration fee, annual dues $15 per individual or $20 for two family members.
On May 14, at 7:30 p.m., Marge Warmuth will discuss "Southern Family Research in the United States." In about a month, the genealogical collection will be moved to the Newbury Park Library, 2331 Borchard Road. To confirm any of the preceding information, call (805) 497-8293.
* The Ventura County Genealogical Society meets on the third Saturday of the month from 1-4 p.m. at Rio del Valle Junior High School, 3100 Rose Ave., Oxnard. Annual dues: $12 individual, $18 per family. Orientation workshops for new members follow the lecture. On the Mondays following the general meetings, the group sponsors a bus trip to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' "Family History Center" in West Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library for research. Cost: $12 for members, $13.50 for non-members. Volunteers also staff the genealogical sections of the E.P. Foster Library, 651 E. Main St., Ventura.
For information, call (805) 485-6779.
* The Mormon Church has five nondenominational "Family History Centers" in Ventura County that provide access to computerized international and national resources. They are open to the public, but visitors should call first to confirm that the center is open. Ventura: 643-5607; Camarillo: 388-7215; Newbury Park: 499-7028; Simi Valley: 581-2456; Moorpark: 529-9057.