Start a Holiday Tradition: Light Up Your Family Tree

This holiday season when family from near and far are in town and sitting around talking, use this time to document – maybe even fact-check – those family stories. Let the library help separate family facts from fiction.

Shari Schawo, our genealogy librarian, invites you and your gang to dig through the Baker Genealogy Center’s resources and archives on the second floor of the library. Make a family activity out of filling out a pedigree chart where you trace your family tree and keep track of what you’ve discovered.

Family stories can lead you to obituary notices, genealogy websites, Kansas state records and even old high school yearbooks at the library. (Haven’t you always wanted to see what your mom, dad, or grandparents looked like when they were in school?)

If you can’t make it to the library, start at home. Shari suggests pulling out old family photo albums to see if family members can match up old pictures with their relatives. Create a family history quiz to keep folks awake after that large holiday meal. And, with the prevalence of camera phones and personal recording devices, it’s easy to hit record when grandpa or grandma starts telling family stories. Teens already know how to use these devices, so put them to work capturing your family history. Start with simple questions like “what’s your earliest memory” or “what were you doing when you were my age.”

“The best advice is to start with what you know and work your way back; for instance, start with a grandparent you know everything about. Get corroborating records every step of the way so you don’t end up tracking down someone else’s ancestors,” Shari said. “The library’s edition of is an excellent resource. It has access to census records, Social Security index and in some cases photographs.”

Shari also recommends the State Vital statistics websites at and the National Archives. You can take advantage of the library’s resources from the comfort of your home. Access these and other digital genealogical resources here.

The library has a number of beginning genealogy books you can check out to have available in the house as your holiday guests arrive. Here are just a few Shari recommends.
•    Genealogy for the First Time: Research Your Family History by Laura Best.
•    Getting Started in Genealogy Online by William Dollarhide.
•    Tracing Your Family History: The Complete Guide to Locating Your Ancestors and Finding Out Where You Came From by Lise Hull.

Want to get your kids into the process? Great genealogy books for kids include:
•    Climbing Your Family Tree at This is the online version of the book by Ira Wolfman. It includes downloadables and family history activities you can do with your family.
•    The Family Tree Detective: Cracking the Case of Your Family’s Story by Ann Douglas. Throughout the book there are detective tips to help you become a “family detective.” There are chapters on how to figure out relationships, on how to organize information, and on how and where to look for clues to filling out your family tree.
•    Through the Eyes of Your Ancestors by Maureen Taylor. Taylor discusses how to get started, how to use family stories and keepsakes, and where to get help.

Visit the Baker Genealogy Center or make an appointment by calling 580-4510 or emailing

For information about deceased family members, check out our Obituary Index, which contains obituary information dating back to 1906. A link to the index can be found here. Can’t find the person you’re looking for? Ask for an Obituary Request (fee applies).

Lisa is a former employee and shared the library story in many of her posts.