Learning about ancestors

Genealogy club collaborates on researching family histories

Created date

March 26th, 2020
Hannah Spalding runs a club at Riderwood called Genealogy Through Technology. It's one of two groups on campus focused on genealogical research. She is pictured here with her husband Bernard.

Hannah Spalding runs a club at Riderwood called Genealogy Through Technology. It's one of two groups on campus focused on genealogical research. She is pictured here with her husband Bernard.

Hannah Spalding first took a serious interest in genealogy back in the 1980s after her first cousin gave her a copy of all of the research she had done on their family’s Irish ancestors during a State Department tour in Paris. Around the same time, Hannah and her husband Bernard attended a reunion of his large southern Maryland family. Bernard’s cousin gave them a lineage chart dating back past the immigrant who came as an indentured servant in 1657 to their eleventh great-grandfather who lived in England from 1450 to 1521. 

“With such a great start, I had to flesh it out more and still am when time permits,” Hannah says.

Hannah and Bernard moved to Riderwood about 12 years ago. They previously lived in Maryland and then spent 15 years in South Carolina after retiring from their jobs at Bell Atlantic. At Riderwood, Hannah has had the opportunity to connect with many other people who share her interest in genealogical research. The community has a long-standing genealogy club that has been running for 20 years, and Hannah now runs a second group called Genealogy Through Technology.

Sharing family research

The 30-person club was formed in 2018. Between meetings, the members conduct independent research on their ancestors and relatives. When they come across interesting articles about genealogy or bargains on genealogy-related equipment, software, DNA tests, books, classes, or memberships, they share that information with one another via email. The club meets once a month to swap tips and tricks for uncovering family history and discuss recent news stories related to genealogy, which are often focused on DNA testing. They also use that time to update each other about progress they have made in filling out their own family trees.

“An especially happy feature of meetings is the report from a member that they have made a long-sought-after discovery about a relative—they broke down a brick wall,” Hannah says.

The members of the Genealogy Through Technology group have rich and varied family histories. That diversity makes for interesting discussions and opportunities to learn from one another.

“We have ancestors from Scandinavia, the British Isles, veterans from all the wars back to the Revolution, and one member can document an American Indian relative,” she says. 

Through her own research, Hannah has learned more about her Prussian great-great-grandfather. She’s also uncovered her Scottish great-great-grandparents’ names and marriage dates as well as the children of many relatives and the locations of still-existing homes and businesses from the nineteenth century. 

“We are a curious, skeptical, productive bunch,” Hannah says of her fellow genealogy researchers at Riderwood. “Being neighbors, we help each other learn about our ancestors— wherever in the world they were.”

Better research tools

People doing genealogical research used to have to rely on paper documents and oral family history. But, as technology has advanced, there are all kinds of tools that can aid amateur genealogists. Hannah says she uses a genealogy database program, video courses, social media, webinars, conferences, Great Courses, and library research to learn more about genealogy and her own ancestry. 

“The History Centers and Genealogy Library in Salt Lake City, Utah—provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints—are favorite haunts of mine,” she says. 

Even though technology can be a powerful tool for uncovering your family’s past, Hannah says the best place to start your genealogical research is to talk to your oldest living relatives. Ask them questions about their lives and their parents and grandparents and record and document all of the stories they tell you.

“Be faithful in writing down all available information on the source of facts you find so anyone checking the veracity of your work, which we should all do, will be able to do it without difficulty,” she says.

Hannah spends a lot of her free time immersed in her genealogical research. But she has also found many other rewarding outlets for her time and talents at Riderwood

“I am a computer club officer, resident representative on the low-vision and low-hearing support groups, and serve on four other health-related committees,” Hannah says.