Author Vicki Blum Vigil has a family mystery to solve. "My paternal grandfather's obituary lists a brother with the same name as he," she explains.
"It may have something to do with his foster mother in Hungary. We have to figure that out." Vigil's curiosity sparked the research that has turned into a book due out this spring, tentatively titled "Tracing Your Cleveland Family History" and available through Gray and Co., Publishers.
"Start with what you know," advises Vigil. "It's amazing what you can find in your own home." A dusty box in the basement may hold wills or certificates of birth, death or marriage. Those records may also be found in the Cleveland Public Library, the Western Reserve Historical Society or the Fairview Park Regional Library, which has a specialized branch for geneaology.
From there, it's simply a matter of sorting through names, dates and places. "It can be confusing because in many of the records a name can be spelled four different ways," Vigil says. But there are clues to figuring out if you're looking at the correct family. "Sometimes," she notes, "you'll find that the same first name has been carried on through a number of generations."
Geography is another key to discovering your geneaology. "Most records are kept by locality," says Vigil. "If an ancestor died while visiting a relative out of town, or went back home to get married or have a child, you need to look for those certificates in the locations where these events occurred."
Vigil also recommends that Clevelanders join one of the many geneaological societies throughout Northeast Ohio to learn about a region that is steeped in history. At meetings, members discuss topics ranging from Quaker settlers to more recent immigrants.
Tracing the history of any family can be a daunting task. Vigil stresses the importance of mining the memories of family members such as grandparents and great-grandparents. While records and certificates will give the facts, family members can paint a much more vivid picture of the past. "We'll lose a huge amount of family history," she cautions, "if we don't get it from our elders."