Alleged German spies as ancestors. A possible bootlegger who changed the course of family history when he adopted a fictitious last name. A murderer in the family.
These are just a few of the stories Dianne Elrichs has uncovered while researching her family tree. She’s turned to the library’s print and online resources to narrow her search through what can be at times an overwhelming amount of information.
Dianne’s quest is made easier with specialized databases, like Ancestory.com and Heritage Quest, available for free with a library card. Read our Genealogy and Local History blog. Many of these sites can be accessed from home or wherever you are, while others, like Ancestry.com, are only accessible in the library.
Located on the second floor of the library is the Topeka Room, where librarians await questions from people tracing their families’ roots.
“Each day we help people find everything from local obituaries to historic happenings in Topeka to tracking down ancestors from across the globe,” said Charity Rouse, Public Service Specialist, Topeka Room and Genealogy.
From the pro to the novice, genealogists like Dianne benefit from the myriad of resources available at your library.
Dianne’s interest in genealogy started when she was in her teens. She learned that her grandfather went by Ehrichs – intentionally – for most of his life. It may have started in the Army and have been permanently adopted later to evade law enforcement during prohibition; Grandpa Ehrichs was likely a bootlegger (as speculated within the family), she said.
Today, with so much genealogical information available online, Dianne’s pursuit to find out more about her family has been reignited.
“I learned that you don’t stop looking for ancestors just because you’re not seeing someone with the right last name,” Dianne said, adding that Ancestory.com has a sound-a-like feature called Soundex, which accounts for typos and other mismatches – accidental or intentional.
She also said to crosscheck official records, which can sometimes be wrong especially back when everything was handwritten.
Of course it doesn’t help if one of your grandfathers went by a false identity.
In the 1980s, Grandpa Elrichs’ health started to fail. A family reunion allowed him to see his long-lost sisters-in-law and other relatives, many of whom were descendants from his immediate family who had already passed. He had been estranged from his family for about 60 years.
“We found his family. When they said ‘we do miss you,’ all he could do was blink.”
Genealogical research has also turned up relatives who were imprisoned for being German spies but were not. They ran a flourmill in Logan, Kan. German immigrants who came to America in the 1880s, they refused to sign a loyalty oath to the U.S. So, the men of the house served time in Leavenworth.
The advent of the Internet also made it possible for Dianne to correct the facts about a dark moment in family history. Her great aunt Edith had a second husband who killed three of her children from her first marriage, whose names are omitted on some of the family’s historical documents.
Find your own way back through your family tree with help from librarians and the library’s collection of databases, periodicals and books.
Here’s a few books that helped Dianne with her genealogical search: