Every organization is looking for new members, especially young people, and that’s clear to the Kerrville Genealogical Society, which wants to foster an interest in family history.
The society is working diligently to develop a program that makes its records on local family more accessible, and to educate school groups on the know their roots. Family history has become a hot topic through the use of DNA test from web-based ancestry sites like 23andMe, Ancestry.com and National Geographic.
"I've got on my DNA printouts about 3,000 people I'm related to at least distantly," said Karen Robertson, vice president of the society, who is helping lead the outreach effort to attract more members.
As it stands now, anyone who wants to avail themselves of the society's archives must go to its headquarters in Kerrville, or obtain the services of one of its volunteers, ideally while making a donation.
For people new to genealogy, the society offers volunteers to help them get started. The Kerrville Genealogical Research Center and Library is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 125 Lehmann Drive.
The society also wants to boost its social media presence. Robertson isn't sure how much all this will cost. To figure out the cost of digitizing the group's archives, she plans to hire a consultant that's helped other genealogy societies make the jump to the world wide web.
"It's a big project, but others have done it before, so we're not plowing new ground, and others have done it in Texas," Robertson said.
Local pastor Joshua Sullivan is a big fan of family history research.
"I think knowing more about what your ancestors did with their lives also helps — it can reinforce the better part of yourself," said Sullivan, a pastor at Kerrville’s Holy Cross Lutheran Church. "For instance, when I learned more about the multiple jobs that my grandfather did to provide for his family, that gave me a sense of, or rather a desire to work hard in the same way that he had. So genealogy is more than just seeing people in (a historical) line, but seeing traits and values throughout the generations as well."
Sullivan said genealogy research may help young people feel a sense of connection that is lacking in an age when so many seem confused about their identities and craving a feeling of belonging.
"I think if children were introduced to that, I think they would have a better grounding in history and also in who they are as a member of a family and a community," Sullivan said.
Robertson is in agreement that finding about that history can strengthen a connection to a community.
For about $50 to $70, a person can send in a DNA sample — usually saliva — to a company and receive a list of relatives who also submitted samples, in addition to general information about ethnicity and country of origin. In this way, people have found relatives they didn't know they had.
Another way to get started is to visit the public library, and ask staff for assistance. The library has a computer subscription to ancestry.com, as well access to archives of many many newspapers nationwide. Obituaries and newspaper articles are among the meat and potatoes of genealogy research. One also can access these services from the four public computers at the Kerr Regional History Center, which is next to the library. A library staff member is at the center to offer research assistance from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
In the meantime, the genealogy society continues to offer its volunteers to the public and to host guest speakers. The next speaker will be Wilson Seawright, the archivist for the Chickasaw Nation, who will present “Finding Your Native American Ancestors" on Oct. 16 in the Guadalupe Basin Natural Resources Center auditorium, 125 Lehmann Drive. Seawright, who served 12 years on the Chickasaw Nations Supreme Court — including nine as the chief justice — and retired after 36 years with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, focuses these days on passing along Native American heritage and history to those unfamiliar with their lineages. The presentation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
The society’s monthly meetings are also open to the public; they are at 2 p.m. every third Wednesday of the month and include a guest speaker.