Genealogy group members create memories as they explore history


July 01, 2002|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TRACING OUT your family history can mean a lot more than long hours on the Web or riffling through dusty files in a library. For the genealogy club at South County Senior Center, it has meant exciting vacations, forging friendships, and tightening bonds with grandchildren.

Shirley Miller, assistant director of the senior center, said the club sprouted from a genealogy class the center offered a few years ago.

"Since we opened in 1991, we've had different genealogy classes and an autobiography class, which goes along with genealogy," she said, "and there was a group that wanted to do more and travel more."

One class member, Pat Hertz, began leading a group on field trips to continue their genealogy research when the classes ended, according to the current club leader, 74-year-old Sally Zoller of Edgewater. Hertz, who died last year, had been a "genie" - the nickname for genealogy volunteers at the National Archives in Washington, according to Zoller.

Hertz showed people how to research their family histories at the National Archives and led trips to places such as the Baltimore Historical Society and Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Now Zoller has stepped in to keep the group together. It meets the first Monday of every month to share findings and research techniques, and to plan a monthly outing.

"I tell everybody that comes in that I'm not a teacher." Zoller said. "I'm just trying to hold the group together."

She said the group provides motivation to keep up with her research. Her parents died when she was young, and she never knew her family history. But her grandchildren have begun to ask questions.

"I think schools are tying history in more with family now than they used to in my day," she said. "My grandkids in school say, `Where did our grandparents come from? We have to bring in a food related to that country,' or they had a report on the Civil War and they asked about the family and I couldn't answer them."

She said she started her research thinking that whatever she found out would be a gain. Among other discoveries, Zoller found out that her mother's family dates to St. Michaels in 1654 and that her father had been married four times. And, on the trail of her family lineage, Zoller learned to use a computer and found a hobby that challenges her.

"As we get to be seniors we need things to keep our mind occupied," she said, "things to keep us busy."

For club members Mary and Phil Alter of Edgewater, genealogy not only keeps them busy, but it literally keeps them moving - all across the country. "We're sort of making it a way to meet people and to do some trips," said Mary Alter, 66.

She and her husband have traveled throughout the Northeast and into Canada in search of their heritage. They have met a number of relatives they had not known and seen towns that they might otherwise never have visited.

Her travels have earned Mary Alter the title "my adventurous grandmother," by her 8-year-old granddaughter Megan, who lives in Bowie.

This summer, they plan to take a trip to Oriskany, N.Y., for a family history-based vacation. According to Alter, Oriskany was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution, and the name Alter appears on the monument to the fallen soldiers. The town plans to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the battle with a candlelight vigil by the descendants of those who died in the battle. Alter's grandchildren will be there with them, honoring their ancestors.

Alter credits the club at the senior center for helping keep her interest up. She never thought she would go to the senior center, but when their son asked them to look into some family history, they took one of the genealogy courses. Alter discovered that it was a nice way to meet interesting people.

"Sometimes when your interest lags ... you go to the meeting and you hear something and think, `Oh, I didn't try this, let me try this,' and you're off again," she said.

The next club meeting is at 1:30 p.m. today at South County Senior Center, 27 Stepneys Lane, Edgewater. Information: 410-222-1927 or 410-798-4802.

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