South Bend woman makes discoveries while researching family history

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.—A South Bend woman made exciting discoveries about her family while researching her genealogy.

Lisa O’Brien, the Director of Development and Communication for the St. Joseph County Public Library, moved around a lot as a child because her dad was in the military.

She says she feels like she didn’t really have a hometown.

“There are always family stories but no one ever dug into the genealogy and did the research, so I popped onto and I was so surprised at how easy it was to locate records through the website,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien’s father had memories of his grandmother speaking Spanish when he was a child, growing up in Pensacola, Florida. But no one in the family knew where she was from.

“When I did the research, I found that she was from Cuba and her family emigrated from there and I wanted to know, well, why did they come from Florida to Cuba at that time,” O’Brien said. “I dug into a little more history into Cuba and found out that at the time it was the Cuban War of Independence so a lot of people had to leave the country at that time.”

That wasn’t the only discovery O’Brien made.

Watch the video below for a second discovery O'Brien made about her family.

O’Brien used a variety of resources to dig into her genealogy, including and printed documents. A family member she found on the website even sent her these photos from her great-grandmother’s life.

Lisa's great-grandmother Clemencia Diaz with her three kids (Photo courtesy of Lisa O'Brien)

Lisa's grandfather George O'Brien during World War II (Photo courtesy of Lisa O'Brien)

Lisa's great-great grandparents from Cuba (Photo courtesy of Lisa O'Brien)

“It was nice to finally put the questions to rest. When I do genealogy, I feel like a historical detective in a way so to be the one to go to the family and say that I had found where she’s from when no one knew it, made me feel pretty good,” O’Brien said.

Are you ready to become a ‘historical detective’?

The St. Joseph County Public Library hosts genealogy events throughout the year, offering support and guidance for people in Michiana looking to take a step back in time.

An assistant librarian in local and family history, Greta Fisher, says that while the landscape has really changed in the last few years, the library has always been a hub for genealogical research.

“Certainly when I started doing it, which was a ways back, you had to make a far trip somewhere very specific to get exactly what you wanted or write a lot of letters or spend time in the basements of court houses and we’ve been a repository in that era for people coming for records like newspapers and books and other things but the digital era has changed all of that and now,  there are a whole range of resources online,” Fisher said.

Fisher said she’s even seeing younger people take an interest in the research as well.

“Genealogy is a growth industry. Right now a lot of people are seeing ads on TV for DNA testing and they get that DNA testing and they don’t know what to make of it, they don’t know how to use it and people are coming to genealogy in a way that they really didn’t 20 years ago,” Fisher said.

While making family trees were once the common use for genealogy research, according to Fisher, people are hoping to find a lot more than a name now.

“People are interested in where their grandfather worked and what his hobbies were and how he met their grandmother as opposed to just getting his name filled in and getting the chart put on the wall,” Fisher said.

The library’s next event for those interested in genealogy is scheduled for March 14 from 6-8 p.m. at the Centre Township branch. The workshop is called “Beginning Genealogy.”

Every first Thursday of the month at the main branch, a group meets informally to discuss their findings and share new discoveries.

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