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Library good place to start when exploring family tree

| Wednesday, June 27, 2012, 6:55 p.m.

Do you want to find out about your family history, but are not sure where to start? Or maybe you've started a search but don't know how to continue.There is someone who is willing to help — at no cost.Marilyn Cocchiola Holt has worked with genealogical patrons for 25 years and has presented numerous programs on local and family history topics, as well as teaching courses on genealogy, since 1988. The department manager of the Pennsylvania Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh of Pittsburgh, she has served as president and program chair of the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society and is honorary vice president of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. Last week, Holt presented "An Introduction to Searching for Family Roots: How to Find the Who, When and Where of Your Family" at Sewickley Public Library for the first time. For those who missed it, Holt said they can make an appointment with her at the Carnegie Library to discuss how to get started or to find out about other resources to use to dig deeper. She said searching for family roots has become more and more popular over the years as more ways to research have become available especially through the Internet. "It used to be that people would use books, research centers and microfilm, but the process has changed so much. People are hearing about it from ads and television shows, and their curiosity is piqued," she said. But many people just don't know where to start."Start with yourself and work backwards. Then start with your parents and grandparents. Start with the known and work toward the unknown," Holt said."Go step by step. Gather information from resources you already have — the family Bible, journals, letters, birth, death and wedding certificates. If there are older members of your family, now is the time to get those oral histories. Look in the attic where your mother or grandmother has stored things. Any names and dates will help," she said.Holt said many people have seen the commercial that tells them they don't have to know what they are looking for when they search for family history."But that's not true, especially if your name is Smith," she said. "You have to lay the groundwork first."Those searching for their roots also can visit the library, where they can use the ancestry library edition, a program to which all local libraries subscribe through the Allegheny County Library Consortium. Also, information from the 1940s census recently became available to the public. Holt said 72 years have to pass before those records become available.Information such as where people were born, where their parents were born, if they immigrants and what year they came to the U.S. and from where can be found.At her workshops, Holt hands out pedigree or genealogy charts for people to fill out with birth, deaths and marriages to help them work their way backward and get them started. She also distributes sheets to remind them about resources they can try first before they take their search to the Internet. "If they need clarification, they can call and ask me questions or call and make an appointment," she said. "You can come in, and we can work one on one."Holt can help people when they don't know where to go next by pointing them toward church or cemetery records or where to go if they are thinking about making a trip to their mother country. There is no fee. People might want to do some of their research at the Carnegie Library, which has data bases not often found at other libraries, like newspapers archives from all over the country and a program containing military records and naturalization records from 1906 to 1930 and information about relatives in the Civil and Revolutionary wars. There also are professional researchers who will do the work for a fee, and also programs, such as "Random Acts of Geneological Kindness'" Facebook page and the U.S. GenWeb project through which researchers can find volunteers who will do research for them if they are searching for information in the county in which they live. The staff at the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City is working to digitize 2 million reels of microfilm within 10 years on its website where anyone can access it.Some information already is online at to help find birth, death and marriage records.Carnegie Library also can get microfilms on loan from the family history library for people to research and then return them. "I want to try to encourage people to do this and know that, yes, they can find their family history. It is possible, and they can find a lot of information. "We want to make people aware of what's available so that more people will take the plunge and see how far they can go."To contact Marilyn Cocchiola Holt, call 412-622-3113 or e-mail h .

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