Bill Low, a local genealogy enthusiast, has developed four courses on genealogy that he will teach at Confederation College this fall.
His passion for genealogy grew out of a conversation he had with his mother 10 years ago, when she mentioned she didn’t know anything about her grandmother.
Low was inspired and started his search by using Family Tree Maker, a program from Ancestry.com, and then his project snowballed. He hired a professional genealogist in Buffalo, N.Y. to continue to sift through history.
“It can become an addiction,” Low joked.
Low provided the genealogist with a few names and dates, and what little else he knew about his great-grandmother, including a second marriage that his mother hadn’t mentioned in their earlier conversation.
“We discovered at that point her parents’ names, because they were on the marriage certificate, and a date of birth and so on,” he recalled.
“From there, I was able to go back in the family and found out that she lied about her birth date when she remarried.”
That discovery led Low to take his family on a reunion in Phoenix to meet some other people who possibly were descended from the same common relatives.
“Everybody on the trip called everybody else ‘cousin,’ although we may or may not be related,” he said.
In the years since, Low has been keeping a meticulous record of where he’s come from, using several programs online.
“I have traced back several branches all back into the 1600s minimum. With the exception of the Low family, which I am one of,” he remarked.
“Back in the late 1700s, about 1785 to about 1795, the Scottish government put a tax on registrations of births, so guess what happened? Nobody registered their births.”
Births are an essential part of genealogical research since they are one of a few methods of proving a relationship. Other proofs may include marriage and death certificates, census information, and even family Bibles.
The first two introductory courses, the first of which begins in September, will explore the basics of genealogical research, including proofs, where to begin research, online and local resources, and file management.
Low said he hopes his course can help people avoid the mistakes he made when he started out.
“When I started, I made horrendous mistakes, even though I was sure I knew exactly what I was doing,” he admitted.
Low noted that recording a date incorrectly can lead to confusion down the road. He urged budding genealogists to record the day numerically, then the month written in short-form, then the four-digit year.
“Those are the little things that make it easier.”
And while the details are essential, the big picture can be enlightening. Low said he has tied his family history into world history to provide more context for his research.
He wanted to learn more than names and lifespans, and has been able to find meaningful information.
“I’m surprised at the variation of occupations, the struggles that they went through, when you tie it into the history,” he noted.
“I was absolutely shocked when I looked at the stats and found out that every one of my great-great-grandfathers survived the Civil War.”
Low also is exploring the health of his ancestors, which he was inspired to do when he learned a branch of his family nearly was wiped out by tuberculosis.
His decade-long exploration of his family tree led him to help other people do their own research, which, in turn, led to his designing these four courses.
“But it is something that [I thought] maybe I can help more people all at one time and get them to help each other,” he reasoned.
“Plus, we’ve started our own little genealogy society in town.
“I thought it would be a great way of getting new members if we taught the course.”
The classes that begin in September will be held once a week from 7-9 p.m., for five weeks, but other details still are pending.
The advanced classes will run in March, and will cater to filling in blanks, group work, and overcoming problems once people have had a chance to work on their own family trees.