Workshop helps piece together family histories

How to be an Ancestor Detective will be held Thursday at the Penticton library auditorium

People of all ages are invited to put on their sleuthing hats and uncover the mysteries behind their family histories.

The South Okanagan Genealogical Society is hosting a workshop Thursday called How to be an Ancestor Detective to help people sift through those piles of papers, photographs and books handed down through the generations that contain nuggets of information about family members of the past.

“We often get calls from people or people drop by to ask, ‘Where do I start? What do I do? I’ve got a box of books or papers, and I have no idea what to do with it. Where do I start?’” said Kathy Corbett, the society’s educational outreach co-ordinator.

Corbett, a former teacher, will join experienced genealogist Shirley Larsen in leading the Ancestor Detective workshop, which will discuss collecting and saving documents and pictures, organizing information and sharing it, searching the Internet, using pedigree charts and family tree maker programs, how to interview relatives and collecting, writing and sharing family stories.

Beginners and intermediate genealogy enthusiasts are both welcome, she said.

“It gets very involving and very complicated very fast. Lots of people just give up,” Corbett said, adding they will cover how to overcome roadblocks during a search. “I’ll give some suggestions on how to get organized when you start and where to look for new research. It’s step by step, one thing at a time.”

The society has 75 members, who take advantage of the group’s amenities and resources. A genealogy library has been established inside a room of the Penticton Public Library building, which is open on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It features a collection of books and newsletters that can help members guide their research.

Corbett said every second Tuesday from 1 to 2:30 p.m., mini-workshops are held on more focused areas of genealogy based on members’ needs. Topics like dating photographs, using old maps, computer programs that build family trees and Irish family history have been covered.

“For some people it can be addictive. It becomes all involving. I’m looking for this thing and I’m going to find it,” Corbett said.

Most of the members are retired, she added, but the society is looking to expand to younger generations. Last fall members presented to a social studies 10 class at Princess Margaret Secondary, exposing kids to the world of searching family histories. Corbett said they hope to attend a few more secondary schools this year, in addition to tailoring the program to middle and elementary school classes in the future.

“When you start looking into family history, you’re suddenly studying history — but it’s much more interesting because it’s your family,” she said. “You’re also working on writing skills if you write their story, you’re studying research skills. It involves a whole skillset that teachers could use.”

How to be an Ancestor Detective will be held Thursday in the auditorium of the Penticton Public Library, starting at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free for members, or $5 for non-members — and that entry can be applied to the $27 cost of an annual South Okanagan Genealogical Society membership. For information about the society, email Corbett at


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