Genealogy Session To Offer Research in Regional Records
Those interested in discovering more about French or Native American branches in their family tree will have a chance to do so at a genealogy gathering Saturday, August 7, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the St. Ignace Middle School cafeteria.
Featuring an extensive “walking library” of genealogy records from the Mackinac Straits area, the event will provide an opportunity for people from across the area and the U.P. to exchange information and make new discoveries from the genealogy records that will be shared with the public.
“We have a huge collection of materials, and the chances of you finding something are pretty good,” said event organizer Cindy Leutz of Lansing, who added that an ancestry database on the Internet will also be available for use.
Ms. Leutz, who started the record-sharing gatherings 11 years ago, explained that many of the genealogy records in the region have been kept private by Catholic churches but are now becoming available for public use.
“Most of the time when you're dealing with English settlers, the records are in the courthouses, but that's not the case with the Native Americans or French that settled in Michigan. They're all in the churches, and it's imperative to get them,” she said.
Another reason that hunting down genealogy records in the Straits area is challenging, she said, is that after the War of 1812, the majority of Native Americans and French fled the region, scattering throughout Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest.
“Anywhere there was a river, that's where they went,” she said. “It's been our goal to gather as many of these records as we can that pertain to where the Indians came and bring them all into one place so that people can research their own families.”
Theresa Weller of Lansing has been conducting research for a book on the Agatha Biddle band of Ojibwa Indians from Mackinac Island for the past three years, and she's hoping to interview some of the band's descendants at the gathering. Interestingly, the 67-member band, which has its roots in the 1800s, was almost all comprised of women, she said, which is what originally sparked her interest in the project.
“What we found is that there were only four men in this band, and that's very unusual for Ojibwa culture,” she said, adding that most of the women married French fur traders.
Ms. Leutz has discovered genealogies for all of the band members except two and said that, surprisingly enough, many of the women are descended from chiefs. She hopes to have the book completed next year.
Regardless of their ancestry, local families from northern Michigan will have a strong likelihood of making discoveries, Ms. Leutz said.
“We're familiar with most of the families from the area, and all of these people are related to each other in some way or another for the most part. There are a lot of people that come year after year [to the genealogy gathering] that are knowledgeable about local families, too,” she said.
Everyone is welcome to attend the session at the middle school. Admission is free.