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Fitting the pieces of the family puzzle

Stock photo of vintage photos
Mary Jane Herber wants people to learn about their family history, not just birthdates and death dates of their relatives. Stock photo

By Carson Glosny

Contributing Writer

GREEN BAY – The Genealogy 101 class at the Brown County Library held its first session on Jan. 10,

“The class has always been Mary Jane’s [Herber] brainchild,” said Susan Lagerman, community engagement manager for the library. The class was born out of something similar that Herber worked with at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

“I used to teach [Genealogy 101] for NWTC,” said Mary Jane. “It was printed in news print, in very minuscule lettering, because this class was so hard to find, it wouldn’t fill up most of the time and get canceled.”

That prompted her to start the course at the Brown County Library.

The first session included about 30 people and really took flight from there.

“It is important to me that this class doesn’t just become statistical, we can all figure out the statistical aspect, what’s important is also to know how your relatives functioned within a society or community,” Herber stated.

She wants people to learn about their family history, not just birthdates and death dates of their relatives.

The course doesn’t just help you find your relatives, it assists people in finding out more of what their life was like.

The class started as a six week session that started with around thirty people attending.

Fast forward 21 years later, and they have around 80-120 people per session.

Today, the class is running a ten week course, with bonus sessions built in.

The initial course runs from 9:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. on Saturdays, while the bonus sessions take place right after from 10:50 a.m. to noon.

When asked about why she thinks the class still has such a large attendance, Herber said, “I think there’s a couple of reasons why. It’s on Saturday mornings in January, February, and March. People can come here and go right over to the grocery store. The other part is that this is a subject where people don’t know what they’re going to find. It’s a puzzle, and every single family has a puzzle.”

The goal of the class is to fit the pieces of each person’s puzzle, and help them to find what they set out to find, and more.

And the research doesn’t just pertain to Brown County.

“What we talk about in these classes pertains to every county in Wisconsin, and every state in the United States,” Herber added.

They do this using federal census records, court records, newspapers and anything that is in written public records.

The digital world also helped this class evolve by making it easier to help people find the out-of-state censuses, as they used to have to be ordered with microfilm.

Now they can access it in the building, making it easier and free.

The courses include an introduction, reviewing vital records, census records, newspapers, land records, immigration and court records.

The last three classes cover computer software and help organize your research, and then finish up by using websites such as www.Ancestry.com as a service within the library.

To learn more about the course or register, visit https://browncounty.librarycalendar.com/event/genealogy-101.

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