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‘The Dead Relatives Society’ is alive and well

By Staff | May 21, 2017

Members of the Dead Relatives Society pause at their May meeting for a photograph in the research room at the Blue Earth Community Library.

They call themselves the “Dead Relatives Society.”

It’s not something from the movie titled “Dead Poets Society,” and it is not some secret mafia hitman organization either.

It actually is a group of Blue Earth and area people who share an interest in genealogy research.

“It started with a Community Education class last fall,” says Ruth McNerny, who along with Wilma Bittinger, got the group started. “We had such a good turnout and so much interest in the class we asked if we could make it a regular thing.”

And, a lot of people wanted more, so they started meeting monthly, on the second Wednesday of each month, at the Blue Earth Community Library.

“We are still under the umbrella of Community Ed,” says McNerny. “We have $5 yearly dues, which goes to them. Then they put our group into the Community Ed booklet.”

They meet for one hour, starting at 7 p.m., and they are always done by 8 p.m. There is a reason for that.

“The library closes at 8 p.m. so we have to leave,” McNerny explains. “And that is probably good because otherwise we might sit there all night talking.”

During their meetings, members discuss new ways to do genealogy research, where to go for information on ancestors, and other dos and don’ts.

And, they have found there is a lot of interest in this topic of family history.

“We have probably 16 to 18 people, men and women, who belong now,” McNerny says. “And we have between 10 to 12 people at our meetings.”

While McNerny and Bittinger started the group, one of their other members has a wealth of information to share.

“Nick Weerts was our facilitator at the Community Ed class,” McNerny says. “So we asked him to join the Dead Relatives Society. He has been doing genealogy research about his family since he was 12 years old.”

At their May meeting on May 10, the group heard Weerts talk about the different types of DNA testing and how these tests can help find some long-lost family connections.

The discussion concerned everything from where to get the test done, and at what cost, to uploading the test results to other ancestry research sites for even more information.

“You can use the raw DNA data to upload to other sites and then build a virtual DNA family tree,” Weerts said. “Not all the results are helpful, and there are errors, but it can be very useful.”

The month before the group watched a webinar and learned how to use old “mug shot” books which list family histories, backgrounds and come complete with photos.

Next month the discussion will center around the legalities and copyright issues involved with genealogy research and the sharing of information and photos.

The discussion will be based on the book “The Legal Genealogist.”

However, at every meeting there is also time for sharing some new discoveries the members have found about their own families, and how they did it.

McNerny has been collecting her family information for over 40 years. But, she admits, it is only the past few years that she has started documenting and researching it all.

“Now I am one of the oldest remaining members of my family,” she says. “If I don’t take care of it now, my family will pitch it all when I’m gone.”

Sometimes she spends several hours a day on it. But, she doesn’t consider it a chore.

“I love it,” she admits. “I get all excited, knowing I am connecting with people I am related to, some who are dead but some who are alive, and learning about them. It is kind of like solving a mystery.”

And there are plenty of others who are interested in this hobby as well.

McNerny and Bittinger used to share ideas on genealogy while they were walking around inside the Blue Earth Area School building early in the morning, part of a Community Ed activity.

“We said we should get a Community Ed class going on genealogy, and see if others were interested in it, too,” McNerny says. “Then it turned into the Dead Relatives Society, where we can share ideas and stories we all love to talk abut finding some long-lost relative.”

Other folks who are interested in joining them can do so by contacting the Community Education office at Blue Earth Area at (507) 526-3172.

Or, just show up at the Blue Earth Community Library at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month.