Peering into Your Past

The Northern Door Geological Society encourages individuals to appreciate and learn more about their heritage by keeping and scanning family photographs – such as this photo of Slattery’s late grandfather, Richard Slattery.

A white-haired gentleman sits in the far back corner of the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Library on a Tuesday afternoon. Like other patrons, he gazes into a laptop, a few sheets of paper strewn across the table.

“Are you here to help with the genealogical research?” I ask.

He smiles, “I am!”

Turning his laptop towards me, displaying a family tree, Steve Osterhaus prepares to help me on my quest. “We get a wide cross section of people who stop by,” he says. “Some have a specific question or are searching for a specific person. And others, well, I had a woman come in today with a pile of papers about her ancestors that she was trying to put all together and organize. We show people where to start.”

The Northern Door Genealogical Society, with roughly 20 members, meets monthly and discusses various aspects of genealogical research.

“It’s about storytelling,” says Osterhaus. “We try to instill that it’s not just about births, deaths, and where people lived.”

Some members specialize in finding information for specific countries, primarily “Germany, Sweden, and England,” says Osterhaus.

The means to find information about heritage and ancestors are sometimes right at an individual’s fingertips.

“There are different websites,” explains Osterhaus, “and programs that help you organize your family tree – you can add pictures, documents.”

“Tell me the name of someone,” he says, “we’ll see what we can find.”

Using the free Ancestry Library Edition, Osterhaus searches ‘Richard Slattery,’ my late grandfather. We find his gravestone and a census report from 1940 listing my grandfather’s siblings and parents, their ages and occupations.

A little more digging and I find my great-grandparent’s wedding photo and gravestone.

“This is how I started,” says Osterhaus, who is working on a book about his family’s history. “I saw this was offered and they hooked me.”

A representative of the Northern Door Genealogical Society is available to help patrons every Tuesday from 1 – 4 pm at the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Library, located at 301 Mill Road in Sister Bay. For more information call 920.854.2721.