Ancestry research class offered this fall

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

One of the classes offered this fall in the Montevideo Community Ed’s virtual line-up is a class on Ancestry featuring Instructor, Mary Wickersham. Wickersham, a longtime member of the Minnesota Genealogical Society, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Irish Genealogical Society International, and the Association of Professional Genealogists is also an author, professional genealogist, and lecturer who owns and operates a research business. The class features the use of ancestry.com as a tool for researching genealogy. “Many library systems have purchased or gotten a subscription for it. It’s such a common tool and has literally thousands of databases you can use to research your ancestors,” says Wickersham. “What I’m going to focus on is not only how to get to those databases, but which ones are the most useful. Ancestry has literally billions of entries of family trees that have been submitted by members of the public and their own subscription members. We will look at how to use those trees as well as how to use those clues to search databases for documentation.”

Wickersham says she uses a variety of tools in her research. “We look at historical records such as the census, online databases that have birth, death, and marriage information. Sometimes they’ll only be index information, but in some cases, some states may even have a digitized image of a death certificate available, for example, for someone to view,” she says. While she’s not an employee of ancestry.com or affiliated with the website in any way, Wickersham says that website, in particular, has changed the genealogy world for people. “You used to have to go to a courthouse for that information. Now you can go online for it. They also have a lot of church records online and City directories,” she says. 

Wickersham first became interested in genealogy 25 years ago while planning a trip to Ireland with her husband. “I’m mostly Irish, so I asked my parents where in Ireland our family came from. A sister and I got together and decided to research our ancestry as a team and had an immense amount of fun working together. About that time, ancestry.com became available and when we ran out of research that we could do on our own family, we decided to help other people,” she said. “I’ve been doing professional research for about 15 years now. It’s kind of a vicarious pleasure because I can help other people with the skills I’ve learned researching my own family.” She has now visited Ireland five times, where she was able to visit ancestral homes. “It’s a beautiful place. Even if you don’t know exactly where people came from, you just go there and you feel like this is where you belong and you get a sense of how they lived, too,” she says.

Wickersham has been hosting Community Ed classes in her hometown of St. Louis Park for five years and has now expanded to offering the classes online virtually to other districts. “I enjoy giving classes. The classes I have been giving recently are about getting started in researching, and not just on ancestry.com but on other online databases,” she says. The class in October will be a two-hour session, followed by another class in a couple of weeks for more advanced research techniques. For more information on the class, visit the Montevideo Community Ed website at https://montevideoschools.org/comm_ed.