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By Laura Araujo Find your Roots


There are plenty of resources available to study your family tree


Y


ou can learn a lot about a tree by look- ing at a cross section of its trunk. The thickness, color and shape of the rings are like a tree’s fi ngerprint. They reveal its


unique history: its age, whether it had enough water and sunlight, if the tree stood through a period of drought, a forest fi re or even an insect infestation. Likewise, a person can learn a lot about who they are by examining their family tree—their origins, im- portant family events, notable ancestors, health his- tories and more. Whatever the reason for research, discovering one’s roots is often life changing.


Understanding his Genes Sid Sperry began researching his genealogy after undergoing heart bypass surgery at age 42. A heart attack had claimed his father’s life while Sperry was a high school junior. He wanted to learn more about his family’s health history.


“I had been diagnosed with hypertension in high


school. I knew the Sperry family males had a long history of high blood pressure and heart-type is- sues,” says Sperry, director of public relations, com- munications and research for the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives and a member of Central Rural Electric Cooperative. Sperry conducted his research primarily using on- line search engines and genealogy websites such as www.ancestry.com. His efforts resulted in a better understanding of his heritage and his family’s health history. “I went back to my great-grandfather in the early 1800s. He died of a heart attack at age 38,” Sperry says. “Knowing that it’s genetic, I have encouraged my kids to take better care of their health—you can’t run away from your genes.” The experience Sperry gained researching his ancestry has enabled him to help others with their searches.


“I’ve helped a few adoptees fi nd information about their parents. It taught me about the struggle


they go through and the identity crisis they can face, wanting to know who they are,” he says. “It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve done.”


Putting Pieces Together Jim Coleman is one of those adoptees who had a few questions about his past. Though he was blessed with wonderful adoptive parents, he wanted to know more about his biological family background. “I’m grateful for my upbringing, but I still felt like there were a few pieces missing—things I wished I could know if there was a way,” says Coleman, direc- tor of marketing and member services at Southeastern Electric Cooperative. Coleman was aware that he had two sisters who potentially lived in Phoenix. He began his search for them in 1980. After years of working with various adoption search associations and writing letters to the courts, he was no further along than when he began. In the 1990s, he tried again, this time through a government intermediary program. He paid a fee and was assigned an agent to petition the courts and make contacts on his behalf. Again, his efforts yield- ed nothing.


By the mid-2000s, Internet searches for family members had become more prominent. Through some online searches, he gained a few names and pieces of information about his past. “Today you can do in seconds with the Internet and a credit card what it would’ve taken years to do


before,” Coleman says. “A lot of it can be done for free, but if people don’t want to be found, then you need a credit card. “I’m a tight wad. Often I’d pay and I wouldn’t get any new information. Finally, a friend of mine, the general manager here (at Southeastern Electric), Larry Speaks, put his credit card information in. He called me and said, ‘I think there’s something you’re going to want to see here.’” It was through that search Coleman identifi ed his two sisters in 2007. After a year of conversations he fl ew to Phoenix to meet one of them. Later that year, he met his other sister. “We have a really good relationship. We’re very close,” Coleman says. “We’ve done a lot together since then and we’d do more if it weren’t for the distance.”


Start Your Search For Sperry and Coleman, discovering more about their past has helped them to better understand themselves. How can you get started on this life- changing quest? Kathy Huber, genealogy librarian at the Tulsa Public Library Genealogy Center, recom- mends a few steps. First, fi ll out a “pedigree chart” or family tree, with all of the information you know about your family members including the date and location of the per- son’s birth, marriage and death. This will help you to fi gure out what you want to know and what your focus will be. Next, Huber suggests looking at home for records like birth, marriage and death certifi cates, military records and family Bibles to help fi ll in gaps in the family tree and to document what you do know. Documentation is key in the research process.


Continued on Page 27


Genealogy books are available in Oklahoma libraries. Photo by Laura Araujo


JANUARY 2014 19


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