Originally Published: October 17, 2009 10 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Six weeks ago, Leslie Womack did not know her parents' birthdays.
Now, she knows not only their birthdays, but also the names and birthdays of seven generations of her ancestors.
"Seeing this book, I don't think this genealogy stuff is so nerdy anymore," Womack said while flipping pages that detail her family history.
On Saturday, Oct. 24, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Northern Arizona Genealogical Society plays host to a Genealogy Fair at the Family History Center, 1001 Ruth St., in Prescott. Genealogy experts will staff 17 informational stations and offer complimentary online research.
A three-woman team from the Prescott chapter of NAGS - Raylene Junkins, Nancy Miller and Sue Kissel - worked day and night the previous six weeks tracking Womack's ancestral history. They wanted to finish the work in time to display it at the fair.
The team dubbed it "The Leslie Project." On Tuesday, the NAGS' dream-team handed Womack a six-and-a-half pound binder detailing her family's Dutch, Irish, Danish and English lineage to the 1800s.
"Ten years ago it would have taken us probably five years to do what we did in six weeks," Miller said.
The Internet has become genealogists' best friend.
"Before the Internet, you would have to drive to different towns and states, look through records, newspaper clippings and order microfilm from government offices," Junkins said. "It was a lot of work. Now, we can do most of the work online."
Genealogists also are using DNA to help them "break through brick walls" in their research, Junkins said.
In Womack's case, she knew very little about her family's roots. The NAGS team had little information to start with.
"I had some old photos of people but didn't know who they were or anything about them," she said. Her ancestral knowledge stopped with her grandparents.
Womack's maiden name, Van Duivendyk, is Dutch. In 1912, the TSS Rotterdam arrived from Holland and docked in New York Harbor. Immigrants processed through Ellis Island and started new lives in America.
Ninety-seven years later, Womack learned that seven immigrants from the ship became the beginning of her American lineage.
The NAGS team found the ship's "List or Manifest of Alien Passengers" showing Womack's ancestors' names, and included a photocopy of it in her genealogy binder.
Included also are historic photos of Womack's relatives and photos of headstones from a Michigan cemetery. Her immigrant ancestors settled in the upper Midwest.
"Genealogy people kind of live in their own world," Womack said while looking at the tombstone photographs. "I mean, you call them and say, 'Would you mind driving 45 miles to get some pictures at a cemetery,' and they're like, 'Sure.'"
In spite of the Internet, libraries remain a vital tool for genealogists. Prescott Public Library members have access to Heritage Quest, which Junkins said offers a wealth of online information. NAGS houses its 25,000 digitized books at the Prescott Valley Public Library.
Although "The Leslie Project" did not discover any shady characters in Womack's family, it did reveal a previously unknown scandal - a divorce.
"Back then, that was bad," Womack chuckles.
Junkins and Miller admit they are "addicted" to genealogy. They liken it to "the thrill of the hunt."
"I'm going to hold onto this very tightly," Womack said of her genealogy binder. "This is a great heirloom that I'm going to add to and pass on to my children."
To learn more information about NAGS or the Genealogy Fair, call 928-445-6505 or 928-445-7575.