CARLSBAD — When she was a little girl Carol Baird used to sit under the dining room table at her grandmother’s house in Hollywood, listening to the older women chat over tea. Baird was the only child of Jewish German holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States.
“I was as nosy as my grandmother and always asked questions,” she recalled.
The experience planted the seed for what would become a lifelong passion tracing her family roots.
After marrying her high school sweetheart in 1970, Baird was given family trees from both sides of her family. Following the birth of her first son she began assembling it. In 1987 she joined the North San Diego County Genealogical Society and the San Diego Jewish Genealogical Society and eventually became president.
When her two sons were old enough, the Baird family toured Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary with her parents so they could describe their lives before and during World War II.
“Gathering the information on paper is only one part,” Baird explained. “The family tree comes to life when you visit.”
Family history research, she added, is therapeutic, not only for descendants of Holocaust survivors, but for anyone who has lost a relative.
“Genealogy can serve as a tool for mental health,” she said. “If there are gaps in your genealogy there are holes in your soul.”
Baird explained that the best time to begin research is following a funeral or holiday dinner when older family members are available to answer questions.
“A busybody is also a good person to go to,” she added, chuckling. “Then ask for documents and memorabilia to substantiate the stories you have heard.”
The protocol in conducting genealogy research is to begin with your own birth and work your way back in time, documenting each event using family bibles and other private and public documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates.
“It used to be that your best friend was the postman who would deliver them in the mail,” Baird recalled. “Then came the computer with online databases and email that made it possible to contact families faster.
“Families are not clustered together like they used to be but now there is Skype and Google Chat to bring you together. I found a cousin on Facebook.”
The other revolution in genealogy research is DNA. “Family stories can distort the truth, deceive and be outright wrong,” she said. “DNA doesn’t care about stories, it cares about facts.”
Today technology has ignited an interest in genealogical research. The Family History Room of the Cole Library boasts one of the largest genealogical collections in Southern California.
Mary Van Orsdol is senior librarian of the Genealogical & Carlsbad History Division.
“We have a cross-stich that reads, ‘I shall never see a finished genealogy,’” she said. “In general, genealogy is a hobby for those who have a lot of time and are willing to make a lot of effort.”
The library offers free access to fee-based online databases including Access Newspaper Archive, American Ancestors, Ancestry Library Edition, Fold3 (military),
HeritageQuest and World Vital Records. In addition, private genealogy consultations are available by appointment as well as free classes on a variety of genealogy subjects. The next one, focusing on the website findagrave.com, is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 29.
The North San Diego County Genealogical Society offers beginning, refresher and specialized classes in genealogy research in partnership with the Carlsbad City Library on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. For information, visit nsdcgs.org.
The NSDCGS is presenting a talk by famed forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick between 10 and 11:30 a.m. Jan. 22 at the Carlsbad City Council Chambers at 1200 Carlsbad Village Drive. Fitzpatrick has earned an international reputation for her work using DNA to solve crimes. She located the Y-reference for Sidney Leslie Goodwin, the previously unidentified child who was found on the Titanic, and worked on the Amelia Earhart case. Seating is limited.
The San Diego Jewish Genealogical Society meets the second Sunday of most months at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. For more information, visit sdjgs.org.
The Cole Library is located at 1250 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad. For more information, visit carlsbadlibrary.org or call (760) 434-2931.