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Group Helps Unearth Genealogical Roots

Kirschenmann, Jay. "Group Helps Unearth Genealogical Roots." Aberdeen American News, 10 July 1999.


Researching her family: Dorothy Nickerson of Thornton, Colorado, looks through one of the hundreds of family history books available at the 29th annual convention of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society at the Ramkota Inn, Aberdeen, South Dakota.

More than 400 people from nearly every state in the union are in town this weekend to learn more about their family roots.

Aside from expert speakers from across the nation, there are thousands of books and records available to those attending the Germans from Russia Heritage Society's 29th annual convention. It took a 28-foot truck to haul hundreds of boxes to the Aberdeen Convention Center from society headquarters in Bismarck, North Dakota. Obituaries alone occupy 20 banquet tables at the convention.

"We have ship passenger lists, family tree charts, microfilm, family history books and a lot more," said Rachel (Mayer) Schmidt, manager of the Bismarck office. The convention, hosted by the Deutscher Kultur Verein (German Culture Society) of Aberdeen, began Thursday and continues 8. a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

The sheer volume of available research brings a smile to Gwen Pritzkau's face. "The first convention I attended in 1972 was so sad: There were three books on a table, and that was it. There were so many German-Russians who didn't know much about their families."

She is a cataloger for the Salt Lake County (Utah) Library for nearly 30 years, a professional genealogist, who specializes in the German-Russian movement. That library is the world's largest genealogical record depository, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Professional genealogist: Gwen Pritzkau, cataloger for the Salt Lake County Library for nearly 30 years, specializes in the German-Russian movement. She works with Mormon Church records in Salt Lake City at the world's largest genealogical record depository, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Access to the records is free to researchers.
Dorothy Nickerson of Thornton, Colorado was digging through records Friday, looking for her Korb and Schroetlin family roots.

"I take my vacations here every year," she said. The conventions are always held in North or South Dakota -- last year in Bismarck, North Dakota and the year before in Jamestown, North Dakota.

"I'm lacking information for the year 1890 -- maybe I'll find it here," Nickerson said, flipping pages in a thick volume. Folks who can't make it to the convention are welcome to search for family information on the Internet, said Roger Ehrich, a professor at Virginia Tech at Blackburg, Virginia.

He is the driving force behind the Odessa Digital Library that is hosted on a server at Virginia Tech. "It's all searchable," he said with a smile. "You can search for a family name in all the books we have on record so far." The Internet address is http://pixel.cs.vt.edu/library/odessa.html.

Aberdeen's Germans from Russia Heritage Society convention chairman T.J. "Bud" Schaffer said it was three years ago that the Aberdeen group bid on having this convention.

"It's a great turnout here," he said. "We have 26 chapters from all over the United States represented here." It meets the last Monday each month at various locations.

Reprinted with permission of the Aberdeen American News.

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