Genealogy

working on old blue printsThe boxes, the maps and blueprints, the millions of documents -- it's the stuff of Idaho history. Idaho's archives building, next to the old penitentiary in Boise, Idaho, may be as close as we're ever going to get to the concept of time travel.

"Every box is truly like Christmas," says archivist Rod House. "You never know what you are going to find when you open a box."

State, county, and city requests for documents pour in daily; but it's the public requests that seem to be growing by leaps and bounds. "We find people visiting our research libraries who have never visited a library before, much less a research library. The drive to know brings them in the door," says House.

working on computerIt seems we humans do have that drive to know, to answer the basic question: who's your daddy? And that, in its most elemental form, is what genealogy is all about: figuring out the mother and father of any given person. But you never know where it's going to lead you.

Idaho Falls resident Althea Torgerson found that out one day, when her mother-in-law gave her a book that her cousin had written about the Nordstrom family. One of the men in that family, Pete Nordstrom, had been murdered. "I read through the article and the name 'Fink' came up. That is from my family." Turns out her great uncle had witnessed her mother-in-law's great uncle being shot.

This is where archivist Rod House entered the picture. He helped Althea find the court records. "I called Althea and told her I had the case file which contained testimony from family members; her family and her husband's family were there at the event. It was truly her family speaking from the past. It was their words recorded."

white gloves and documentRod House also discovered a pocket knife in the files. It had belonged to Pete Nordstrom, and it was the reason the case went to trial. "The man who killed Pete said it was self-defense," explained Althea, "that Pete came after him with a pocket knife, threatening to cut his head off. When they found Pete and pulled his hand out of his pocket, the pocket knife came out, and it was closed. So there went the self-defense argument."

For the first time, Althea's family knew exactly what had happened in their family, so many years ago. Althea also learned something else in the process of delving into her family's genealogy.

"I learned that, regardless of what people have done in the past, they still want you to know them. If you get into genealogy to find all the skeletons in the closet, you aren't doing it for the right reasons. Everybody makes mistakes. They just want you to know them."

More information on the Idaho state archives building