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Researching family trees
About 50 percent of the researchers who come to the library are family historians, the majority of them women.
-- Tracey Baker

by Tracey Baker


Making mosaics is a passion of mine. Putting the pieces together is very rewarding. This fits with my love of research and puzzles - making sense of things and discovering the missing pieces.

It wasn't until I discovered the Fergus Falls State Hospital records in the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) collections that I was able to make sense of the story of my Swedish immigrant great-grandmother, Maja Johnson.

In 1898, shortly after the birth of my grandmother, Clara, her mother Maja was committed to the state hospital, where she was given the institutional name and patient number Mary Johnson No. 5. Maja died there six years later of tuberculosis. My grandmother never talked about her mother.

After her father remarried, Clara left home at the age of 13 and started her first job. Learning about Maja's story helped me better understand why my grandmother was so remote and proper. It increased my compassion for the many individuals and families affected by incarceration in such institutions.

I'm fortunate that my job as a reference librarian at the MHS Gale Family Library allows me to help others find information that fills in the pieces in their research and to make sense of things that puzzle them.

About 50 percent of the researchers who come to the library are family historians, the majority of them women. Most begin by gathering information and stories from their living relatives but then find that they are missing important bits of information or that they have heard conflicting stories. That's when they come to us.

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We often recommend that researchers begin with looking at census records and city directories. Then, as they keep digging into the lives of their relatives, they may focus their research and look at records relating to where their family members worked and went to church and what clubs they belonged to. There are many sources to explore, including photographs, maps, old newspapers, birth and death records, naturalization records, land records, and collections of diaries and letters. For them, like it did for me, discovering the missing pieces of the puzzle can be very rewarding.

Tracey Baker is a librarian and lives in Roseville. She is sharing her love of reading and puzzles with her 1-year-old granddaughter.

Family history research in eight easy steps
The Minnesota Historical Society's Gale Family Library has a wealth of resources for working on family trees. The MHS suggests the following research steps:
1. Start with what you know.
2. Decide what fact(s) you want to find.
3. Determine the kind of record you need.
4. Record your results.
5. Decide what you want to find out next.
6. What you can do at home.
7. Read about the areas in which your ancestors lived.
8. Read about doing family research. Join a society.
FFI: Go to www.mnhs.org and select "Family History" under "Resources."

BookShelf:
Tracey Baker recommends these books with a family tree or family history by women authors.
Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson
Shimura Trouble by Sujata Massey
The Horse You Came In On by Martha Grimes
Innocent Blood by P.D. James
Thicker Than Water by Rett MacPherson

What's on your bookshelf?
Send us 450 words about your booklife, plus your list of five related books by women authors. editor@womenspress.com





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