Woodbury County Genealogical Society

Cheryl Kounas and Phyllis McMillan, members of the Woodbury County Genealogical Society, say the Wilbur Aalfs Library, 529 Pierce St., has an extensive reference area on genealogy.

Journal photo by Joanne Fox

When "Roots" entered the homes of television viewers in 1977, interest in genealogy skyrocketed.

More than three decades later, members of the Woodbury County Genealogical Society insist that interest in one's heritage continues.

"It's important with all the flooding going on that individuals make sure boxes of photos aren't damaged," said Phyllis McMillan of Sioux City, corresponding secretary. "We have information on how to make sure photos are protected."

Perhaps adding to a continued awareness of ancestry is the fact that people don't have to travel around the country, researching their heritage, due to another area of technology -- the Internet.

But with that instant access to an ever-expanding Information Age comes a "buyer beware."

"We've previously done a special meeting on just evaluating websites," said Cheryl Kounas of South Sioux City, vice president. "There are so many to choose from, people aren't sure where to start."

Not just where to start but also what to do with a plethora of news groups, chat rooms, home pages and government records. And for individuals who have no idea where to start, Kounas suggested -- like the lyrics from the "Sound of Music" song -- at the very beginning.

"You start with yourself," McMillan added. "Then work backwards."

Government or legal documents are important to prove your heritage, Kounas pointed out. The downside to those?

"Some people don't handle an unexpected bank robber surfacing," Kounas said with a laugh. "In fact, some just stop their research altogether when an unsavory relative comes up. But let me tell you, everybody has someone like that in their family."

Finding your ancestors is far more than simply seeing who you can shake out of the family tree. With people living longer, more emphasis has been placed on family health history, McMillan said.

"It's the first thing doctors ask you today," she said.

Kounas jumped on the genealogy bandwagon when an aunt from her mother's side of the family started doing some research. It so intrigued her that she continued unearthing family history, resulting in a 4-inch-thick folder full of documents, information and pictures.

McMillan became intrigued after her mother died in a car accident and her father didn't want to talk about family history.

"I wrote about 100 letters in search of information and got four letters and two phone calls," she said. "But I always say, 'Never say never!' A treasure I found was my dad's Bible that his mother gave him in 1912 that was loaded with family names."

The society's membership has fluctuated over the years since it organized in 1977. Through it all, the group has documented every grave in Woodbury County cemeteries and indexed obituaries from the Sioux City Journal by name and death date at Wilbur Aalfs Library.

Typically meetings are held the second Saturday of the month at First Presbyterian Church, Sioux City, but times and places will change depending on programs. The presentation at 10 a.m. July 9 will focus on "Family Sources & Beyond," followed by a program on preparing the information area for the Woodbury County Fair in August.


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