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Genealogists look up their ancestors in Hall library event
Library hosts Sitting up with the Dead genealogy event
Hall County Main Branch library assistant director Jeanne Hozak assists Dan Erwin Friday on the computer during a Sitting Up with the Dead genealogy research event at the library in Gainesville. Erwin has been researching his mother and father’s side of the family for the past 20 years. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

When Theresa Anderson married her husband, Paul, she went to work digging up dirt on her new family.

In the 37 years since, she's dug all the way to 1795.

That's where she found James Anderson of Habersham County, her husband's great-great-great-great-grandfather.

"He's kind of like my brick wall," Anderson said. "I can't get back past him."

On Friday, she was hoping for a break in her case as she sifted through records at the Hall County Library System's Sitting up with the Dead genealogy event. As 6 p.m. passed, the library staff locked the front doors and a group of about 40 settled in for a late night of looking through census reports, county records and microfilm.

"I will be crushed if I leave here tonight and no one has stood up and screamed, ‘Yahoo, I found it!'" Ronda Sanders, the library's local history expert said to the history buffs. "So when you find that one thing you're looking for, please, this is not your normal library. You are expected to let us all know that you found something so we can be encouraged to keep looking ourselves."

For Bob Conner picking away at his family's history has become an obsession.

"It's worse than drugs. I can tell you that," he said with a laugh as he leaned over photocopies of hand-scripted records in the library's local history section.

He had his first big find at 13 and was instantly hooked. At the time, he was trying to track down the origin of his brother's name, Hannie. It was a family name, everybody said. But no one could tell him where it came from.

"I went into the courthouse here in Hall County and went through the marriage records and wills and things," Conner said.

It turns out the first Hannie was his great-great-grandfather. Since then he's tracked the Conner family back to 1763, "with a good lead on the next three generations."

Conner warned, though, that digging too deep might unearth something you wish you hadn't. In researching, he found the story of relative who had committed a murder in Hall County in the late 1890s.
"I try to not get too upset about that because you can't tell them how they were supposed to live," Conner said. "They're already dead and gone."

Vickie Tyner came to the library Friday night to make a return to genealogy research after a 30-year hiatus. She loved researching her family lineage but then marriage and kids put the hobby in the backseat.

"It's the fist time I've seen this thing," Tyner said, sitting at the computer. "We used to have to scroll through the original microfilm and flip through the books in the courthouse and that kind of stuff."

Many came to Friday's event with a specific goal in mind, a distant relative they only knew the name of or a finicky ancestor they couldn't track past. As the skies grew dark, the night was young, with much of Friday the 13th left for digging up ghosts.

Mary Lowrey's husband gave her one request for her night's research. In the 1800s, there was an Alabama tribe leader by the name of Chief George Lowry and her husband was hoping she would find a connection.

"My husband desperately wants to be a Cherokee Indian," Lowrey said.