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Genealogy Can Unlock the Past and the Future

TV shows, scouting troops and ethnic heritage classes have encouraged youngsters to learn about their ancestors.


Interest in genealogy seems to be booming lately. Climbing around the family tree has a certain appeal to people of all ages.

Adults are heading to genealogy classes at libraries and community colleges, according to librarians and educators. Youngsters are interested no doubt in large part because books, films and TV shows aimed at their age group have time-travel themes involving kids who are always bumping into their ancestors. And schools have put greater emphasis on studying ethnic heritage. Even the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have merit-badge programs in "Genealogy" and "My Heritage."

In modern society we increasingly find people separated from their heritage. We used to hear our family's oral history directly from live-in elders. Children's lives today are sadly lacking in ways to connect their past with their future. Behind and ahead become a void.

Even the California Institute of Technology has people studying some aspects of this issue. Kip S. Thorne, the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics there, has written a book about time travel that extrapolates Einstein's theory of relativity into a theoretical way we might eventually meet our forebears face to face.

In "Black Holes and Time Warps," he discusses the classic science fiction idea called "the grandfather paradox." That's the theoretical question about what would happen if you got into a time warp and happened to, say, intentionally or unintentionally bump off an ancestor.

If you want to do a bit of low-risk, low-tech ancestor greeting, traveling on your own through your family tree, go to a location on San Fernando Boulevard in Burbank and visit the headquarters of the Southern California Genealogical Society.


The group's library is replete with books such as "Shaking Your Family Tree," "Understanding Roots," "Polish and Proud" and "Spanish Mexican Families of Early California." Youngsters are encouraged to visit, according to June Mueller, who frequently presides over the library on weekends.

Judy Doss, a Burbank teacher who is active in the society, uses genealogy as a teaching tool at John Muir Middle School. "We call it 'family tree' rather than genealogy," she says. She has students in her English as a Second Language (ESL) classes--who come from all over the world--do a family tree, a project that encourages them "to talk about themselves and makes them feel they're not so different."

Doss' school won the designation "A California Distinguished Middle School," in part for developing a genealogically oriented classroom activity called "American Odyssey."

In a written statement, Doss and her colleagues characterized the classwork as encouraging "higher-level thinking skills, particularly those involved in observing events through different points of view."


* FYI: Kids interested in finding out about their family's past will enjoy a visit to the Southern California Genealogical Society headquarters in Burbank. Its 9,000-volume library has family records from all over the United States and the world. Located at 122 S. San Fernando Blvd., its hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and on the first, second and fourth Sundays of the month. For further information call 843-7247.

* ETC: Science fiction fans willing to deal with their time-travel fantasies becoming fact should read "Black Holes and Time Warps" (W.W. Norton, $30) by Kip Thorne.

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