Genealogy gurus guide group gathering

News Photo by Darby Hinkley FamilySearch Center Director Ella Purkiss, above left, points out features of a gravestone on Wednesday as Nadine McCutcheon, right, looks on. Purkiss and Sharon Young teach classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the FamilySearch Center, formerly called the Family History Center, located inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 411 Long Rapids Plaza.

ALPENA — Researching family history may sound like a daunting task, but it can be fun and easy with the help of the FamilySearch Center in Alpena.

Free family history classes began this month at the FamilySearch Center inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 411 Long Rapids Plaza. Classes are held from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Each week includes a free Wednesday lesson with a repeat of that same lesson on Saturday. This allows for those who work during the week to be able to attend classes. Classes are taught by Sharon Young, who can be reached at 989-657-3591, and Ella Purkiss, who can be reached at 989-306-8090. The FamilySearch Center was formerly known as the Family History Center.

These sessions are for U.S. Family History Research. Upcoming topics and dates are:

¯ Sept. 27 and 30: Native American Records

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Above, Rose Marie Guthrie, who has been doing genealogy for 40 years, holds up a “U.S. Military Records” book, one of many free resources available to use at the FamilySearch Center, which is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

¯ Oct. 4, 7, 11 and 14: Ancestry.com

¯ Oct. 18, 21, 25 and 28: Census Records

¯ Nov. 1 and 4: Courts — Civil and Criminal.

In addition to the free classes, the FamilySearch Center is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and assistance is available by appointment. Call Young or Purkiss, or the Center at 989-358-9809.

Rose Marie Guthrie also helps at the Center. She has been doing genealogy for 40 years. In addition to working at the FamilySearch Center, she is active in leadership with the Northeast Michigan Genealogical Society.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Rose Marie Guthrie, left, explains a family history document to Tammy Hermansen.

“It’s changed so much,” Guthrie said of the way genealogy research is conducted now, in comparison to years ago. “So much is available online, but you’ve got to be knowledgeable about it. So, I do try to keep up on what’s available.”

She explained that the computers at the FamilySearch Center are equipped with the latest programs to access genealogical databases, and are free to the public without a subscription.

“I have access to all of the paid ones,” Guthrie said. “And we have them all here, for free.”

She encourages anyone to consider starting their genealogical journey.

“I would just say, come in, bring as much information as you can about your parents and grandparents, and from that, we can spin off and get going,” Guthrie said.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Guthrie and Hermansen look up for a quick photo.

Guthrie explained some benefits of genealogy.

“I have found it brings you closer to your relatives,” she said. “Not just the deceased ancestors. You find yourself talking to relatives, and it brings you closer, and it’s amazing. I had a wonderful experience with my mother. We went to Quebec and explored her ancestral village — I guess it’s mine too — and it was wonderful. She was so happy. And her second cousin is still living in the residence in Quebec. Isn’t that cool?”

Tammy Hermansen came in to meet with Guthrie on Wednesday at the FamilySearch Center.

“I’m excited,” Hermansen said, as Guthrie presented her with a highlighted map of the area in Poland where some of her ancesters hailed from.

Hermansen explained why it’s important to her to learn more about her ancestors.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley FamilySearch Center Director Ella Purkiss stands holding a book called “Portrait of My Family: My Family Heritage” that can be filled out with family history, photos, facts, and stories. Next to her, Nadine McCutcheon enjoys looking through another book.

“I believe that we have a responsibility to those people,” she said. “To help them progress spiritually. And we can do that through ordinances here. So I feel motivated to find my family members, specifically, I think, because when you do genealogy, you learn to love those people. And Rose Marie is really good at using the resources that are available. She knows how to do things I don’t. She’s super knowledgeable at it.”

Hermansen said Guthrie helped her find a family member that she was previously unable to find information on.

“She’s found someone that I haven’t been able to progress with,” Hermansen said of Guthrie. “Who was a great-great-great grandmother, I believe … You feel a love for those people and a desire to know more about them, and an appreciation for what they did to allow us to have the life that we have in the United States.”

To reach Guthrie, email guthrierm36@gmail.com.

On Wednesday afternoon at the FamilySearch Center, Purkiss was teaching a class in the adjoining room while Guthrie and Hermansen reviewed Hermansen’s family history documents.

During the class, Purkiss reviewed methods of documentation of vital records that can be used in genealogical research, explaining that different counties and states document births, marriages, and deaths using different forms, and that spelling mistakes are common on many of the older documents. She provided many handouts of documents, including birth certificates, death certificates, military records, and more. She thoroughly explained where to look for important information on the document, such as the date of birth, place of death, or mother’s maiden name. In researching, you may come across documents that seem incomplete, or have blanks or words written such as “unknown” in the space meant for the mother’s maiden name. One of the birth certificates she passed around did not bear the first name of the child, but only the last name.

Purkiss explained tips on how to get death certificates without paying for the certified copy. She said if you only need the copy for research, it is possible to obtain one that is not certified for a much lower cost. She has a lot of knowledge on genealogy, as she has been doing it for 47 years.

Class participants were eager to learn more about the process.

“My dad had done quite a bit of research already, so I knew that his family got here in the 1880s, and my mom’s family had, kind of, a family history background, so they always passed things on, and they were to Canada in the 1660s,” Janet Rybak said. “So, I wanted to try to get information to go back even further than that, and that involves international records. And I’d heard family rumors about one of my ancestors being a Muskateer, and I wanted to find out if that was a possibility.”

She said it’s neat to find out where you come from.

“How your family history shapes your own personality,” Rybak said. “Your grandparents, if they struggled a lot, maybe you get that determination from your ancestors. If that’s what they went through, that’s the kind of things they’re going to pass on. So, it connects you to not only their records, but their struggles and what they went through, and it explains your personality.”

Nadine McCutcheon has been interested in genealogy since she was just a teen.

“Basically, for me, it started when I was a teenager,” McCutcheon said. “I was interested in the family, and I used to bug my grandparents and try to get information. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a real good job of keeping track of all of that at the time. But over the years I just kept thinking about it and adding to it … It’s just always been an interest. I just enjoy it. I enjoy finding out the little things.”

McCutcheon said she found out that one of her great-grandparents had a sister they never knew existed.

“I grew up with one first cousin,” she said. “So, it’s always amazing to me, and I can remember one of my many, many second or third cousins saying to me, ‘Why are you so excited to know we’re related?’ And I’d say, ‘Because I don’t have anybody else in the family other than my own two sisters to share things with and talk about.'”

Cynthia Orlandi noted that for her, researching family history has a spiritual element to it. She belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We do it so we can get sealed to each other in the temple,” Orlandi said. “I’ve been sealed to my parents, and because I’ve done grandparents in the temple, then everybody’s sealed, all the way back, and it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful to know that we’re all going to be together in the here and after day, in heaven. That’s why we do it.”

Whatever your reason, it’s never too late to start your own family history search. Let the experts at the FamilySearch Center help you along the way.

“We like to do this class so that we can help people be able to do their family history,” Purkiss said. “And hopefully, as they enjoy that, they’ll want to do more.”


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