Genealogy Research Is like a Good Mystery

Article excerpt

Byline: Jill Gross

Many years ago, my mother began researching our family tree.

She wrote to far away relatives, visited local libraries, and collected hundreds of documents. When she and my dad downsized for retirement, I became the proud owner of the stacks and stacks of clippings, letters, photos, certificates and family tree diagrams.

I want to do something with these treasures, but what?

Is there a way to safely display this information? Should I put them in a scrapbook? How do I continue to find even more information about those elusive family members? Are there computer programs to keep me organized?

The Daily Herald is ready to help answer those questions. Each month this column will visit with DuPage County residents who are piecing together their own family trees.

We will learn interviewing techniques, how to decipher old family documents, meet with genealogy experts, test out current family tree software and share our stories.

Our first interview is with Karen Umlauf, a recently retired Lake Park High School English teacher. Umlauf is passionate about her family, history and writing. When she began researching her family roots 15 years ago, she found she could combine all three of her favorite interests.

"I love that genealogy is more than facts," said Umlauf, who lives with her husband, Gary, in Bloomingdale. "I love the narrative."

Umlauf's first interview was with her father, who was at first reluctant to talk about himself. After a few prodding questions, he warmed up to the idea and enjoyed sharing his memories. Her father spoke into a tape recorder, and her mother transcribed his answers.

Every year since, Umlauf has spent a few weeks in the summer visiting cemeteries, talking to distant relatives and looking through old church records.

"I have always loved mysteries," Umlauf said. "Genealogy is like being a detective, and there is such satisfaction in finding it on your own. …