McCann talks about genealogy at the Marshalltown Library | News, Sports, Jobs
Tracing family history can be a difficult undertaking, but with a few tips and tricks, it can become much easier. Shell Rock genealogy enthusiast Linda McCann visited the Marshalltown Public Library (MPL) on Friday afternoon to provide insight into how to get started on the complicated subject of ancestry.
McCann said she became interested in genealogy more than 40 years ago when she began researching her own family history and discovered that she was descended from the founder of Shell Rock. Over the years, she has researched not only her own family, but also people from all over Iowa for the line of Iowa history books she authored.
Over the years, McCann gathered resources and skills that made genealogy research a more streamlined process, and she shared those resources with the small crowd that visited the library in cold weather.
“The first thing I would say to anyone starting out is talk to their family. There may not be much family left, but talk to them now. We don’t know what tomorrow will be. We have it. uncovered in the past two years,” McCann said. “Think about what you might ask them.”
She said even asking how far a parent went to school could be relevant. Asking detailed questions and even asking family members to identify individuals in old photographs were all ways McCann suggested to move the conversation forward.
“Whatever it takes to get them talking, because a lot of them feel like they don’t know anything that nobody wants to know,” she said. “Talk to whoever you can.”
Finding out where family members lived was the next step, and McCann said going to courthouses to get more information about the ownership of properties could lead to a wealth of information.
“You could see who your grandparents’ neighbors were and you could look it up. A lot of times they were parents because that was how it was,” McCann said.
While it’s likely to find information about other families in the process of finding someone, McCann cautioned against tracing multiple families at once because it could be confusing.
“It’s so easy to be confused. The names are similar or exactly the same. So start with a family and work them through multiple generations anyway, until maybe you’re at a breaking point,” she said.
Generally, McCann stopped when she traced individuals in Europe, and she felt she could go no further.
McCann suggested several different websites to get started, ranging from sites focused on family history research like ancestry.com to online newspaper archives. While websites like ancestry.com can be a good place to start, she said anything on these websites should be thoroughly researched before the information is believed to be true.
“With ancestry, if you use them, you have to do your own research after you find what works,” McCann said.
Along with a document listing several websites and resources available to each participant, McCann provided a blank ancestral chart, which is essentially a more detailed family tree, and a blank family group record sheet, which had spaces for fill in specific information about a family.
These tables are generally available for printing, and they are meant to contain as much information as possible. Full names instead of nicknames should be used, and a woman’s maiden name should be used. McCann said these prints are particularly useful for keeping information in order when tracing families.
A combination of research, note-taking and family interviews was key to McCann’s genealogy, and she hoped those present could put the knowledge she imparted to good use. One thing was certain in McCann’s opinion.
“Genealogy is definitely addictive,” she said.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or