Anne Spartz was given a simple assignment by her Slayton High School psychology teacher when she was a teen — find out where you got your hair and eye color. Anne found that information nowhere near as interesting as the people she learned about. Her future husband’s sister was in the class and had the same assignment. At family reunions, her dad’s side had a self-proclaimed historian who wrote down updates to the family information each year. Anne’s mom was an only child with hundreds of cousins. Anne started researching that side of her family using a family Bible that listed dates, names, and the family tree.
In that Bible she learned about Josiah True Tuttle who married Elizabeth Lindsay Graham. Anne chuckled, “And one thing just led to another!” Questions came — why did Josiah have the unusual middle name “True?” and was Elizabeth Lindsay Graham related to the other famous Graham?
Anne discovered World War I and II enlistment records — a treasure trove of information about the builds, eye and hair color, ages, hometown, and more. Census records also hold a lot of information such as the year a person arrived and how many children they had. This hobby felt like doing a puzzle (another hobby Anne enjoys).
It didn’t take long for Anne’s hobby to turn into an obsession. As a young stay-at-home mom, Anne took up couponing in the ‘70s. Any profit made was quickly spent on postage and photocopies of documents. Before the age of computers, one way Anne found people was by writing to postmasters and older family members out of the area asking for any information about people with the family name she was researching.
Anne noted she wouldn’t be the world traveler she is today without her genealogy interest. Once she learned about people she wanted to go and see the places they were from. “I was able to go and walk where my family walked and slept in the house they built,” Anne marveled as she told about one of her trips to Norway.
When their grandson Kolton was born, both Anne and Bob got to go visit Bitburg, Germany. Kolton’s dad was stationed at an Air Force base there. Anne not only got to see her new grandson at Bitburg, but also learn more about her husband Bob’s family who had come from there. The Spartzs visited a family home in Germany that had been built in 1798. The connected barn is now a distillery; the Spartzs were able to purchase small bottles of Schnapps produced at the family home to bring home as family gifts.
Anne quickly learned, “People are the same the world over.” For her the best part has been to have actually gone to places where her ancestors were from and lived. At one point it looked like someone had her family on the trail of Charlemagne. She wryly pointed out, “You can’t believe everything you read though.” Some people are too ready to make claims that haven’t been proven.
When asked what frustrated her in genealogy, she quickly responded, “Brick walls!” Elizabeth Graham Tuttle is one of her brick walls. When she found the name for Elizabeth’s father’s wife in Coles County, Ill., it felt like Christmas!
Another frustration is name changes. Anne’s maiden name was Furan, but her grandfather’s name was Martin Johnson. For Norwegians, Johnson meant son of John. In Norway people were identified by what farm they lived on. Martin’s father and family changed their name to Furan, the name of their home farm in Norway, because there were so many Johnsons living around them in Minnesota. Now Anne’s family has Johnsons and Furans in it, making it more difficult to trace lineage.
Tools of genealogy
Anne no longer has to rely on postmasters’ help. Her main research tool is the internet and Ancestry.com. Anne has a membership and has used their DNA matching for both her and her husband Bob. Anne has also had DNA tests from My Heritage and 23 & Me. She gets information for her research from all three of the groups.
Anne has an Ahnentafel chart that details her family for 16 generations back. Ahnentafel means an ancestral-based numbering system. Each area of Norway creates a Bygdebok which keeps track of families in the area. As Anne traveled to different areas she purchased Bygdeboks as souvenirs of her trip. Eventually she accumulated 12 or 13 Bygdeboks. When the flood of 2007 hit Rushford, Anne lost all of her Bygdeboks and her other records as her basement flooded. “It was like a death in the family for me,” Anne shared. The accumulated information was a big part of who she is — she’s been building it back ever since.
Anne now has replaced several Bygdeboks and has traveled five or six times to Salt Lake City, Utah. At Salt Lake City she was able to access genealogical information from all over the world, including Bygdeboks. She has copied pertinent information from many of them. Anne has also traveled to Madison, Wis., many times with fellow members of the Winona County Genealogical Society via bus to visit the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society for the day.
A relative of Anne’s has written the book Ola Hola. Rushford resident Ernest Maland translated parts of the Norwegian book for Anne. The book recounts family stories for Anne’s ancestors. The author was the great-granddaughter of one of seven sisters; Anne can trace her family back to the sisters as well. Anne was able to visit “Teigset,” the farm the sisters had grown up in in Norway.
The tradition continues
When Anne worked in a local law office, she used genealogy as she found heirs for probate cases. At the Rushford Historical Society, Anne continues to gather local family trees.
When her son Jim and family moved to Maine, Jim and his daughter Lily got the “bug” as well. Lily was given a school assignment to research her ancestors. Since the German and English sides of the family had actually lived in Maine for a time, Anne, Jim, and Lily visited a museum in York County, Maine, on one of Anne’s visits to research the ancestors who had lived in Maine.
Anne has taught a beginning genealogy class through the local school’s Community Ed program. When asked what she got out of doing genealogy, she enthused, “I can help people who want to know things about themselves.” A prime example of that was when Anne was able to help local Rushford resident and friend 103-year-old Virginia Arnold in her search for her birth mother. Virginia was left on the steps of the Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wis., and later adopted. Anne was able to get her in the right family using DNA testing, and Ancestry Search Angels “whittled it down from there.”
Anne has produced a three-ring binder full of her husband’s family tree; she now has a goal to do the same for her side of the family. She notes that health histories are another good reason to do genealogy research. She herself has not done the health portions of DNA testing yet.
Helpful hints for beginners
Anne opined that this is an awesome hobby to begin during COVID. You can do a lot of research online these days; you can also take field trips to cemeteries and visit gravesites with no concerns about COVID whatsoever.
If you don’t have access to a computer or want to try out Ancestry.com, you can call the library and make an appointment to use their computers. The Rushford Library has a library version of Ancestry.com available for your use.
Anne suggests that people starting out in genealogy begin with themselves — confirm your own history first and then go interview relatives; then work your way back to your ancestors. Old obituaries can hold a lot of information as you start your search.
Anne proudly declared that she has ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War. She has learned the stories of her ancestors, the joys and the tragedies. She has learned who she is and where she came from, traveled and seen the world — all because of a high school assignment and the interest in genealogy that grew from that.