Herald Journal Columns
July 10, 2006, Herald Journal

Finding your ancestors


Imagine being able to know some history on who your great-great-great-great grandfather was.

I will be able to impart this information to my soon-to-be future grandson or granddaughter.

About two years ago, I got the “itch” to know more about my family history. I soon found that there are many sources one can look to in order to find some useful information.

One of those sources for me was the Minnesota Historical Society, which you can find online at: http://www.mnhs.org. No surprise that I went to this source first because it is free!

I found that the Minnesota Historical Society is a rich source of information where a person can start that journey of researching their family genealogy.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s website is well-organized; the first link is labeled “Family History & People.” This is where I found the Minnesota birth and death index.

When searching using the death index, I first just typed in the family last name to see who was registered. The list of names found for this field can be narrowed if you want to add more specific information to the search parameters, such as the year or the county where you believe the person died, if you are looking for a specific name.

I skipped the narrow search parameters, as I thought there could not be that many folks who had my last name that died in Minnesota.

When the results were displayed, I found 21 people that were listed. As I gazed at this list of names, many of which I was unfamiliar with, I began to ask myself which part of the family they were from. Some of the names I knew. . .my father was there, the uncle, the grandfather. . . hey! Even my great-grandfather that died in 1919 was listed.

I discovered that this online database indexes what they called “the death cards” from 1904 to 1907; these were 3x5 cards that were filled out and sent to the state’s Office of Vital Statistics from the county where the death occurred. After 1908, they were called “death certificates” and so far, the Minnesota Historical Society has been able to transpose these records for online viewing, up to the year 2001. I learned that this process is very time-consuming, as the paper records are collected and each one needs to be typed into the online database for the website. This whole process began in 1997 and was called the Vital Statistics Redesign Project.

The information I was able to see online for free included: the person’s full name, date of birth, date and county where death occurred, and also mother’s maiden name, which was very helpful for the genealogy search.

The other important piece of information provided was the Minnesota Certificate ID number, which is how I was able to order a copy of the actual certificates and have them mailed to me. The cost was $8 for each certificate, and it took a couple of weeks before I received them. The actual copy of the certified death certificates included more information than I was able to view for free online.

Another nice freebie is the five- generation ancestor chart that I was able to download.

The chart is available as an Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) and as a text file, which you can use in a program like Microsoft Word. It was easy to fill in and print out.

The Minnesota Historical Society linked these charts from The Family Tree Magazine online website. If you’re reading this online, here is the PDF link for the chart: http://www.familytreemagazine.com/forms/research/ancestor.pdf

The historical society also has state census information available. The Sibley County 1880 census is where I was able to cross-reference some of the names I found in the death indexes, along with the mother’s maiden names.

I discovered that the Ollig side of my family came to Minnesota and lived in Sibley County, the Arlington and Winthrop areas, by way of Wisconsin; with a passage through Illinois. This was how I started my search, but I also used many other sources.

For anyone wanting to start their own family genealogy search, you might want to start it at the Minnesota Historical Society’s online website, and you may want to consider viewing the microfilm and paper archives at their St. Paul location on 345 West Kellogg Boulevard.

The great-great-great-great grandfather’s name, by the way is one Joseph Ollig; he was born in 1834 in the Rhineland area of Prussia-Germany. He died in 1905 in Stewart, Minn. in a coal-fired furnace accident.