Tracing your roots: getting started on your ancestry search

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Do you know where your family started or what role your ancestors may have had in history? Millions of people around the globe, and right here in Louisiana, are finding some fascinating answers to those and many other questions.

St. John the Baptist Church in Brusly was established in 1840. While it's important in the history of West Baton Rouge Parish, this church holds a special place in Brittaney Kerry Spruill's heart for another reason.

"My third and fourth great-grandparents, and probably other relatives as well but there the only ones I can pinpoint were actually married in the original church that's long-since gone," said Spruill.

Spruill discovered this information about her ancestors after starting a search of her family's history. That was 15 years ago.

"All I knew was my great-grandfather's birthday and death date, two random family members' names and that his father was about 50 when he was born," said Spruill. "So I just started going to the library, going to the archives and a little bit of internet research at that juncture."

Along the way, Spruill says she discovered some interesting truths about her background. For example, her red hair, fair skin and last name were not the results of Irish ancestry as she and her family had always thought.

"It turns out we were French that had come down from a post in Canada, that's now in Michigan, in the late 1790s. And it really changed our prospective on things, and it turns out the name was just spelled wrong," said Spruill.

Spruill is one of millions of people around the world in search of answers about their past. LSU PhD candidate David Brokaw says she's a part of a growing trend of people looking for their connection to history.

"I think it does kind of have kind of a humbling effect on an individual to know that it's because of others that they have what they have today," said Brokaw.

While people have their own reasons for finding out about their past, Brokaw and genealogist Judy Riffel agree on a common theme. Since information is becoming easier to come by, more people are digging into their roots.

"A lot of people couldn't do their genealogy because they had to work and they couldn't go to the library," said Riffel. "They couldn't spend a lot of time digging through books and documents. But now that the internet has come into being, we have a lot of resources available to us online."

While Spruill agrees the internet has made things convenient, she says her trips to her family's hometown of Natchitoches and conversations with older relatives have been even more rewarding - and drive her to learn even more.

"He had a brown eye and a blue eye and rode a white horse. I mean, how would you know that otherwise if somebody didn't tell you? So those things I think, that oral history, is going to be lost if people our age don't start talking to people," said Spruill.

To get started on your own ancestry search, you don't need a whole lot of information or money. Riffel suggests starting your search with basic information, like your parents names, and the names of their siblings. One good tip is to take advantage of your local libraries. Many of them have subscriptions to websites like that you can access for free with a library card.

Ancestry search resources:

Family Search

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