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August 23, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Tim Dollens says he’s cool with being called “the obsessed genealogist.” After being recruited by his aunt to type up her compiled family history when he was a teenager, Dollens’ love of uncovering his ancestry never stopped growing. He is the resident genealogy guru at the Columbia Public Library. He holds classes to help people navigate through genealogy websites and prepare them for a successful journey in discovering their lineage. Dollens says that as the baby boomer generation brings in a wave of people wanting to discover their past, the digital age has made the retrieval of records and organization of information more accessible than ever.
What do you do as a genealogy guru?
For me personally, it’s helping people find their family history using the two databases the library has available for our patrons. They are Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest Online.
Why do you think it’s important for people to research their ancestry?
It defines the character of my ancestors and what we are as a society. I think it’s just fascinating since we’re such a unique country. It’s just finding out more information about the people
who created me.
Did your love of history contribute to your interest in genealogy?
I was interested in history, but once I started putting my own ancestors in that context, I got more meaning out of it. Just think about the decisions one person had to make in their life that affected their whole generation.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?
The advice I would give someone right now is to learn to be computer savvy. You need to start putting your data onto family genealogy software products that put your information into a computer program. There are so many choices for that — one of the more popular ones right now is Family Tree Maker.
Will people need a little bit of family information to start?
You have to start with what you know. Most people start off with their home sources, so you’ll start with a family photo album and find marriage licenses or insurance policies, Bible records or school records — anything that you have from previous generations. Then you’ll use those clues to send you on back even further.
How has the Internet helped with genealogy?
The Internet has helped tremendously. For instance, if someone wanted me to do some research right now, I would probably, within a three of four hour time period, take them back 150 years if they can take me back to 1940. And there are just so many records available right now that weren’t available 30 years ago.
What’s the most interesting connection you’ve found in your family?
I have an ancestor who was the first white child born in Rhode Island — the son of a Reverend. Then three generations later in this same family, the great-grandson is marrying one of the Iroquois Indians as his wife named Amy. I mean you can’t make this stuff up. You see some of this stuff in the old movies, and you realize truth is so much cooler than fiction.