Unearthing family history at the library

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette The Portage Lake District Library's Michigan room has one computer set aside for genealogy research. 

HOUGHTON — What better way to make history come alive than learning about the lives of your ancestors?

What you find may surprise you.

To help explore the past, the Portage Lake District Library has made ancestry.com’s resources available to patrons. Since at least 2010, the library has offered access, via its library account, free to the public.

The library version comes with two qualifiers. First, it can only be accessed for devices on the library’s wifi, but both personal devices and library computers work. Secondly, users accessing the library’s account can only view records.

Adding to the database or creating online family trees aren’t possible since the account is shared. 

Library director Dillon Geshel regularly holds training sessions at the library and intends to hold more in the future zeroing in on features in the coming year. 

Ancestry.com is one of the largest online databases in the world with census data, death records, photos, military documents and immigration papers. Many of the records on file revolve around English speaking countries.

Geshel suggests digging into the data, as “it might not always be clear where to find information.” However, once users get the hang of one section of the database, it’s easier to work with the others, he said.

Geshel demonstrated how to use the website, in one instance searching for the name Indiana Jones and coming upon a record for an African American woman who worked as a laundress for no pay, according to the record. Geshel guessed the woman was working for board, given the time period. 

“There’s a lot of details like that you can pull out of these records,” Geshel said.

The database includes suggestions for those who have difficulties, maps, printable charts and a new feature that offered tips for tracking down the hard to locate “black sheep” of the family.

For those looking to utilize this resource, the library staff is also available to assist with difficulties.