DNA testing companies like 23&Me can tell you about your genetic origins, but they can’t tell you much about the fateful encounters, harrowing escapes and happily-ever-afters that helped those genes make their way to you. For those curious about the human drama in their family’s story, researching and preserving genealogical information doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, according to local historian and Gunbarrel resident Dina Carson.
Carson is hosting the workshop Publishing Your Heritage and Family Research at the Left Hand Grange (195 2nd Ave., Niwot) on Sunday, March 17. Though publishing might seem like one of the final steps in a family history project, Carson’s workshop is for even those in the earliests steps of their journey.
“The workshop will be good for complete beginners as well as people who are farther along in the research,” she wrote in an email interview about the upcoming event, which is sponsored by the Niwot Historical Society. “I plan to start the class with a section that shows family history writers how to plan a doable project and follow it up with a section on what their publishing options are.”
Carson is a seasoned local researcher and author who discovered her passion for genealogy while researching her own family’s story as a high schooler. In the years since, she has been active in a number of area genealogical and historical associations and has assisted several local families uncover more about their roots in the area. She is also an avid photographer, and has photographed “almost all of the cemeteries in Boulder,” including Niwot.
She currently coordinates the Boulder Genealogical Society’s Boulder Pioneers Project, which “seeks to identify each of the men and women who arrived in Boulder County before Colorado became a state in 1876, and to gather genealogical information about the descendants of those pioneers,” according to the organization’s website. Carson launched her project about 10 years ago, just before Boulder’s Sesquicentennial in 2009 and was surprised by the amount of source material she was able to uncover.
“I was just curious to find out how much I could learn about the early pioneers of the area using original sources. I mistakenly thought, 'how much could there be?' Ha. There's a tremendous amount, and it's been fascinating to see how many people were here before statehood in 1876.”
Carson also heads up Iron Gate Publishing, which produces the biennial Directory of Genealogical and Historical Societies, Libraries and Museums in the US and Canada, which was released last in 2018. The firm also has published numerous indexed compilations of Boulder County source documents from the 19th century, including court records, real estate transactions, and the double-volume Boulder County Commissioners’ Journal, detailing the proceedings of the local government from the time before Colorado was a state.
“One of my most recent ‘surprising’ finds came from the 1877 Boulder School census,” she wrote. “There were a surprising number of married women in that census. Married women in 1877 who were young, of course, but still attending school. Fabulous.”
Though it’s easy to get started on your family history, Carson cautioned that it can be difficult to know when to stop. Too many family historians “try to put too many eggs into one basket,” and can end up with an unworkable amount of information.
“With today's print-on-demand technology, you don't have to create a single family history of every ancestor you have,” she wrote. “You can divide the project into workable pieces and publish a little at a time. After all, an 80 page book on your parents and grandparents can always be followed up with additional books on the great-grandparents and so on.”
She also said that beginning family historians can be too eager to trust questionable sources. “It's really tempting with online trees to connect anyone who could be an ancestor. It saves a lot of time and effort later if you look at the source material, the evidence or proof, to make certain you're connecting the correct person to your tree.”
Carson’s workshop is scheduled for Sunday, March 17 at 1 p.m. at the Left Hand Grange in Niwot. Admission is $10 for general public, and free for NHS members. Seating is limited, so please make an advance reservation by contacting email@example.com.
For more information about the Boulder Pioneers Project, visit https://boulderpioneers.org/ or check out their page on Facebook. Carson will also be speaking at the Columbine Genealogical Society on April 16.also be speaking at the Columbine Genealogical Society on April 16.