TOWNSEND -- Genealogy is sort of like a black hole. The more you find out about your ancestors, the less you know.

For Dwight Fitch, genealogy is a lifelong interest, but one he put on the back burner until an early retirement in 2000.

Luckily for aspiring genealogists, he is ready to share his research techniques. Last month, he talked about how to get a search started and the materials available at local libraries such as the Townsend Public Library.

Many birth, marriage and death records along with contemporary documents like census and church records are available online.

A good way to start is by downloading a family pedigree chart and filling in information. The forms are available on Ancestry.com.

"It's an exponential thing," he said. One individual has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-parents and so on. "You can get a fairly large number of people fairly quickly."

Ancestry.com is also a place to start searching for information. The federal census records, compiled once every 10 years, are available from 1790 through 1940. Some state census information is on the site as well.

Vital records like birth records are on the database, but can be sketchy, he said. "Not everything is there."

Military records and immigration records are on the site. The immigration records can be difficult to use, he said, and it helps to know where your ancestors entered the country.


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Public family trees, made by people who have done research, can be viewed. They might have mistakes, he said, but can give researchers clues about where to look.

The library also provides access to HeritageQuest.com. Like Ancestry.com, it contains federal census records. It also contains books.

Using one of the books, Fitch traced part of the family tree of a man who used to own a book in his private collection. He discovered that some of the man's family had lived in Guilford, Vt., his own hometown.

The library also has a collection of books on genealogy in the 929 section and a subscription to Family Tree magazine. "They have more information than you can imagine," he said.

Fitch had a hand up in researching his family. Earlier family members prepared a genealogy for a book published by the grange in the early 1960s for the town's bicentennial.

He also had some letters written during the Civil War, when a branch of his family lived in Massachusetts. They took animals to be slaughtered to another town.

Fitch assumed it was quite a long journey, but learned otherwise after he looked at a map on Historic Map Works, another database at the library. It turns out the family lived on the town border.

Fitch and another volunteer, Eileen Barnacoat, run a genealogy club at the library on the second Thursday of each month, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and at the senior center on the second Friday of each month, from 10:30 a.m. until noon.

The groups are free and open to people of all ages and abilities. Laptops are available for research. Fitch said to bring a flash drive to store information.

The Friends of the Townsend Public Library will sponsor Irish Genealogy 303 with Tom Toohey on Aug. 19, at 7 p.m. ,at the library.