The Johnson City Public Library offers worldwide genealogical services on-site through Ancestry.com and a plethora of regional resources for library-goers to dig deeper into their pasts.
Library clerk Kyle Johnson, an East Tennessee State University history major and special collections coordinator at the Johnson City Public Library, holds a special interest in genealogy and sees it as a way to uncover remnants that might have gotten lost with the years.
“The importance of genealogy changes from person to person,” Johnson said. “For some, it’s about inheritance. When you help people discover their genealogy and help them get in touch with their ancestors, it’s like you’re giving a part of their personality back to them.
“Knowing who your ancestors were, what they did, where they came from, why they stayed in this place or moved to this place, it’s like giving back to them a part of themselves.”
Filling out a family tree, however, isn’t completed within a day or even a month. DNA test results generally take three months to process to determine a person’s genetic makeup, and results often give way to more questions. Johnson shared tidbits of advice to those who remain too intimidated to plunge into their ancestry.
“There are several bits of advice that I like to give people when it comes to genealogy,” Johnson said. “First off, document everything, and document early. If you find a piece of information, write it down, where it came from and when you found it.
“Another thing that is really important is to talk to what I call your contemporary ancestors. These are your grandparents. Speak to them before it’s too late. There’s a quote in the movie ‘Bladerunner’ that I like — ‘All those memories will be lost in time likes tears in rain.’ People wait too long to ask questions, and you’ll lose that context if you don’t ask before it’s too late. Seeing the records is one thing, but hearing the personal stories is another.”
Bradley Quick, a history major at ETSU, shared his ancestry story and the DNA results that shocked his family and him.
“I’ve been working on my family’s genealogy for about four years now,” Quick said. “I did my DNA estimate about two years ago. My mom and her parents are from Cuba, so I expected the estimate to be around 50 percent Spanish since Cubans are from Spain. I get it back, and it says I’m 18 percent Spanish and 35 percent Italian and Greek.
“So, even though half my family hales from Cuba, I’m genetically more Italian than anything else, partially from my Sicilian grandmother on my dad’s side and unknowingly from my Italian grandmother — from Cuba — on my mom’s side.”
Ancestry.com offers at-home DNA saliva testing to determine a person’s ancestors’ geographical locations and migrations. Similar DNA services include 23andMe.
“DNA is still very much the frontier of genealogy,” Johnson said. “The fact that we now have the DNA testing kits available to the hands of the general public is a new concept. Using DNA kits from Ancestry or 23andMe is helping to give people rough information of their families’ backgrounds.
“Say you have no concept from where your family may have come (from) and you’ve completely disconnected from that side. Well, these DNA tests can tell what percent of a nationality you may be. The tests are very regional-based. They’re not always a hundred percent and tell you the exact place, but they can at least give you a better clue to finding your immigrant ancestors.”
The Johnson City library’s second floor features a Tennessee Room that boasts regional records and Census records that date back over 100 years.
Library clerk Lisa Williams gave a tour of the special collections, and according to Williams, the books must be used within the library so as to preserve the material.
“The Tennessee Room contains reference materials that we do not check out of the library,” Johnson said. “Although Ancestry.com isn’t available for free from home, the library does offer Heritage Quest, which is through the Tennessee Electronic Library. It looks and works really similarly to Ancestry.com.”
For those interested in diving deeper into their genealogy, the Watauga Association of Genealogists come to the Tennessee Room on the second Tuesday of each month from 6:30-8 p.m. Preference is given to those who contact WAG at least six hours in advance via the email [email protected]
For more information, visit www.jcpl.org.