Earl Underwood has been researching his family’s history for 55 years.
His genealogical quest began quite simply.
“I did it because my grandfather was interested in his family and he shared some of the neat things about his parents and I wanted to know about the parents of that couple — and that got me involved,” the Fremont man said.
Today, Underwood is president of the Eastern Nebraska Genealogical Society. The group has about 100 members who gather at 7 p.m., the second Tuesday of each month at May Museum in Fremont.
On Aug. 17, the society will host a genealogical workshop for beginners. The event — free and open to the public — is set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Keene Memorial Library in Fremont.
“We’ve had other events, but this is the first one truly for beginners,” he said, adding, “The interest in DNA has really caused an upsurge in interest in families and relationships.”
In recent years, people have been using DNA-testing services to trace their genetic roots, discover their ethnic origins, learn more about their heritage and even find family members.
“There’s something inside of some of us that says, ‘I want to be a detective’ and this is one way of detecting our ancestors,” Underwood said.
Workshop attendees might want to bring basic data like the date and place they were born and their parents’ names.
“Most of this stuff you’re going to already know,” he said. “If you were adopted, then we’ll see what we can do to help you proceed with that information.”
Participants will fill out forms, learning how to put the information they already have into a format and how they can get additional information to fill in the gaps.
“We’ll show them how they can do their DNA tests and what places within their own house they already have information that they didn’t know they had,” Underwood said.
Beginners also will learn where in their community they can find all sorts of data, like courthouses, churches, libraries, historical societies and digital newspapers.
“With digital newspapers, we are able to find stuff we were never able to find before,” Underwood said. “People have put together history books. In Europe, for instance, all the towns have put together histories. You have churches that have published their birth, death and marriage records.”
The workshop will be divided so that two or three genealogical society members will make presentations during the morning. No lunch will be provided.
There will be an hour break from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., then participants return for the second part of the program.
The workshop will include a portion for people who’ve done genealogical research and have had problems locating ancestors and family information. An afternoon panel will discuss problem solving.
Many times, people will think all their family history has been researched, Underwood said.
But genealogical society members will find that only one line in a person’s family has been researched. They have many other ancestors with whom they’re connected.
“If you do a DNA test, most likely the first thing you see is you have probably 6,000 people who have DNA that connect to you. That’s just the beginning,” Underwood said.
There can be surprises.
“Sometimes, we thought we knew who our ancestors were and the DNA tells us that’s not correct,” Underwood said.
The local man believes the biggest benefit for genealogical researchers is they can know about themselves and what their family is about.
Many people believe their ancestors came from Europe so their sons wouldn’t have to go into the military and be injured or killed, but Underwood said they came because they were poor and were seeking a better life.
“Most of them really improved themselves by good techniques in farming and going into business and using their talents,” he said.
These individuals then passed what they had on to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Today, their descendants may have some basic knowledge, but not the real background on these ancestors.
Underwood’s own queries involved his paternal grandfather, who came to America at age 7.
“I had no idea where he came from,” Underwood said.
Or about his background.
It took Underwood 11 years to find out.
“But if you’re a genealogist, it would take a week today,” he said, adding, “I didn’t know what to do — and in those days we didn’t have a lot of information and we had to write letters. Now we have computers and databases and digital newspapers.”
Underwood smiles when considering how much easier such research is now.
“The same problem I had in 1976, I could solve in five minutes today, because of computers and genealogy,” he said. “You have to know where to go to find this stuff.”
Some people might say they don’t have time for such an endeavor.
“If you’re a busy person, you can just take 15 minutes a day and work on your genealogy and all of a sudden you start to have all these new things happening in your life,” he said. “After supper each evening, I go in my den for about half an hour and do genealogy.”
Anyone with questions about the workshop beforehand may call Underwood at 402-620-4074.