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Berks genealogy group helps beginners figure out their family trees

For those looking to explore their family trees, Betty Sustello has a warning.

“Be careful,” she said, “because it’s addictive.”

It’s easy to get hooked on exploring your family history because it can be fascinating, she said, and there are many benefits to it as well.

So on Saturday, Sustello taught the first class of a four-week genealogy course for beginners offered by the Berks County Genealogical Society.

“It’s like basic training for genealogy,” she said.

Betty Sustello leads a workshop on tracing family histories on Saturday at the Berks County Genealogical Society in the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Betty Sustello leads a workshop on tracing family histories on Saturday at the Berks County Genealogical Society in the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

About 15 attended the class at the nonprofit society’s library on the fourth floor of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading.

Among them were Mary Moyer of Bernville, who wants to find out more about where her late father, Irvin Bare, came from.

Bare died in 1971, and though Boyer has heard he was from Dayton, Ohio, she isn’t sure.

“I’d like to find that out, but I don’t know where to start,” she said.

Mary Moyer of Bernville looks to trace her family history on Saturday at the Berks County Genealogical Society in the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Mary Moyer of Bernville looks to trace her family history on Saturday at the Berks County Genealogical Society in the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

That’s the type of guidance Sustello and her fellow society volunteers help with.

The society’s library is open seven days a week from noon to 4 p.m., and members of the public can stop in anytime for assistance and access to its vast collection of books, other publications, and microfilm that will aid them in genealogy research.

That includes census, church and tax records, newspaper archives, high school yearbooks, land grant records, history books and other useful sources.

John R. Richards II, another society volunteer, said that when starting a genealogy search through a website like ancestry.com, they should make sure the information they begin with and what they find online is accurate.

Otherwise one piece of misinformation will lead to others, he said.

“You can’t take everything you find as gospel and run with it,” he said. “Try to document everything.”

“It’s so important to get started on the right foot,” Sustello agreed.

That can be tricky, though, in part because some names are so common to the Berks County area and to specific families, Richards said. For instance, he remembers attending a large gathering of his relatives in which there were seven John Richards in attendance.

What helped Richards in his research was having a relative on his mom’s side who long ago documented her family line from 1751 to the 1940s, he said.

Even without that type of family history, though, genealogy research is worth the effort, he said.

“It’s important to find out where you came from,” he said. “And it can give you a feeling of belonging.”

Tammy Miller of Sinking Spring was among the beginners in Saturday’s class. She said now that her children are older, she finally has time for genealogy research.

Tammy Miller of Sinking Spring attends a workshop on Saturday at the Berks County Genealogical Society in the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Tammy Miller of Sinking Spring attends a workshop on Saturday at the Berks County Genealogical Society in the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

“It’s very complicated,” she said before the class began when speaking of her initial independent foray into the research.

Sustello was determined to simplify that process for her, though, as the society’s volunteers do for so many.

Genealogy has helped Sustello to learn more about her family’s medical history, local geography and old-fashioned language, and it helped keep her brain active as well, she said.

To help encourage others to give it a try, she begins her class with a quote from the ancient philosopher Cicero:

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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