Kim Alberg began studying her family’s past at the age of 5. She can still recall trudging to and from different city offices and riffling through documents with her grandmother. She remembers observing and taking notes at tombstones. At her young age, she also conducted interviews and gleaned insights from relatives who passed away long before she reached adulthood.
That was before the study of genealogy became more widespread, Alberg explained – and before technology made this type of research more accessible. Now, decades later and after retiring from teaching, Alberg leads courses at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, using online databases to open up even more knowledge.
“I want to empower students,” Alberg said after teaching a class Monday on using online newspaper databases. “I want to give them the power to take what’s available to them – whether it’s databases or access to city directories – and to make this their own.”
Class attendee Paul Blankenship knows firsthand that everyone gets into genealogy for different, often highly personal, reasons. He found himself digging into his family’s roots to connect with someone he’d never met: his grandfather.
It began when Blankenship read his grandfather’s obituary. Then, he started learning interesting and unexpected facts – notably, that his grandfather had to carry a draft card in World War II.
“It’s helped me to know who my grandfather was,” Blankenship said of his new passion. “Then, I’ve become more curious as a result. Suddenly, I’ve become interested in who my grandfather’s father was, and who my great-grandfather’s father was.”
Alberg shared many ways to follow these curiosities using Midwest Genealogy Center resources. Her tips included the magic words she makes all students repeat: selecting “resources” from the Midwest Genealogy Center’s homepage, then clicking “browse resources.” From here, researchers can study their families using more than 100 databases.
She also advised that students keep in mind that the spelling of family names may be different going back, and that dates and locations of events may be different than what family folklore has established. Throughout her talk, one piece of key advice continually emerged: casting a wide net.
“By filling in what we know, we narrow ourselves. In genealogy, we often want to fill in less and let it lead us,” Alberg emphasized. “We need to take our minds to the places where our ancestors lived.”
For a list of Midwest Genealogy Center courses and events, visit mymcpl.org/genealogy/events.