Some people stay in on Friday the 13th to avoid bad luck, but a contingent of Gainesville folks choose to spend their evening with the dead.
More than 50 people were at the downtown Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library until midnight Friday to use the genealogy resources and compare notes with others. The event, called "Sitting Up With the Dead," takes place every Friday the 13th. Registered participants get a boxed dinner and snacks throughout the night and can learn to use the library’s genealogy programs and databases.
"This is our biggest crowd ever," said Ronda Sanders, who ran the event.
Sanders said some of the best clues to family history come from documents like marriage, birth and death certificates. But birth certificates were not issued for people born in Georgia before about 1920, she said.
"Family Bibles are a treasure trove of information," Sanders said, because births were often recorded in the Bibles.
She also said high school and college year books can provide clues to the past.
Most of the people who attended the event were amateur genealogists researching their own family trees.
On the second floor of the library, beyond a decorative coffin, people sat with books and laptop computers, on their own personal quests to discover their ancestors.
"It’s addicting. It’s like being a private investigator," said Anne Begnaud, who has been researching her family for three years.
Begnaud said she planned to spend the evening researching the origin of her mother’s family line. Friday would have been her mother’s birthday. Her mother was also interested in genealogy, and Begnaud felt the event was an appropriate way to remember her.
Clarence and Glenn Haynes are brothers who have been researching their family since the 1970s.
"There’s always questions. It never ends, you always want to know more," Clarence Haynes said.
The brothers were at the library hoping to find a connection between their relatives and John Haynes, a colonial governor of Massachusetts.
Glenn Haynes said he enjoys genealogy because he not only learns about his lineage but also about history.
"I learned so much about the Revolution," he said.
Penny Shirley not only researches for herself but for others. Shirley said she volunteers for a Web site called Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, where she helps people find their ancestors.
Shirley attends the "Sitting Up With the Dead" event whenever she can, and is even considering writing a book on the history of the Shirley family in Habersham County, which she has been researching since 1995.
"You get hooked on it," she said.