BELLOWS FALLS -- Everyone in America has a different family story.
Built by countless immigrants in search of a better life, the history of the United States has combined a "melting pot" society with stains of slavery and remnants of indigenous civilizations to create one of the most diverse and multicultural nations in the world. Virtually anyone living here today has an ancestor from a foreign land and tracing one's heritage has become a serious pastime for many hobbyists.
Rockingham resident Wayne Blanchard is one of these hobbyists and the Rockingham Free Public Library has arranged a series of free events to enable him to share with others his knowledge of how to use technology to dig into the past. Workshops will be held in the library's third-floor meeting room from 10 a.m. to noon on five consecutive Wednesdays starting Feb. 5. Blanchard said the advent of personal computers has revolutionized the way people research their lineage, and he plans to get guests started on their individual journeys to yesteryear.
He said the first workshop will focus on helping participants organize their research. He said different people will have different amounts of research already completed, and he will first need to find out how far a participant has gotten before developing a plan.
"People can indicate what they're working on and what they want to do," he said. "If they're like me, they spend a lot of time on it and do a lot research finding out just one more thing about their family."
The workshop scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 12, will focus on using Ancestry Library Edition, a partnership of ProQuest and Ancestry.com, to search the U.S. Census. The most recent census occurred in 2010 as the U.S. Constitution mandates one must be conducted every 10 years. Blanchard said censuses are a great way to find out where one's distant ancestors lived. The workshop slated for Wednesday, Feb. 19, will instruct guests to utilize Heritage Quest (a database that has digitized local histories) while the one set for Feb. 26 will focus on AmericanAncestors.org, a part of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
The final workshop -- set for Wednesday, March 5 -- will be based around creating genealogical sketches, which Blanchard said are brief biographies of one's ancestors.
Sam Maskell, the youth services librarian at the Rockingham library, said the facility has hosted several popular genealogical events in the past. She said Blanchard has attended some of the events and Reference and Historical Collection Librarian Emily Zervas asked him if he would like to host his own.
"We have a lot of old families and there is a lot of curiosity as to how far back families go," Maskell said. "We do have a really rich history."
Maskell said there is no cost to the series and people can attend as many or as few as they would like, though everyone is encouraged to sign up so the library can anticipate how many people will show up.
Blanchard, who is originally from Bow, N.H., said online databases can be terrific resources, though they are often difficult to navigate due to errors associated with them. He said in order to have a database online someone must take the time to read through censuses and painstakingly enter in information. However, misspellings are quite common and can mean the difference between finding a long-lost relative and not. Blanchard said this was nearly the case when he was looking for information about a Jonathan Blanchard, who lived in Rockingham in the 1800s. He told the Reformer he found the stranger's name on a tombstone near Rockingham Old Meetinghouse and decided to find out if there was a connection, which there is.
Wayne Blanchard, who wrote a book titled "From the Great Migration to the Greatest Generation" about his family's history, said someone once misspelled his ancestor's name in a census, and he had to resort to reviewing a census of Rockingham to find him. As it turns out, the first Blanchard to live in America arrived in Boston Harbor -- ironically on a ship named "The Jonathan" -- from England in 1639. Wayne Blanchard said the early Puritans were very good at keeping records, and he now knows that the immigrant Blanchard sailed to the New World with his second wife and mother-in-law (both of whom died on the voyage) and his four young sons. He apparently put his life back together and bought a few hundred acres of land in what is now Medford, Mass.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.