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Review of the book Tracing Your Dakota Roots

Book review by Mary Lynn Axtman, Fargo, North Dakota

Winistorfer, Jo Ann B. and Cathy A. Langemo. Tracing your Dakota Roots: A Guide to Genealogical Research in the Dakotas. Mandan, North Dakota: North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, 1999.


Genealogy research how-to guide books are numerous and pretty routine publications from many publishers and sources. They can also be rather cut and dry reading material for even the most dedicated family researchers. However, Jo Ann Winistorfer and Cathy Langemo have teamed together to use their many years of professional writing, editing, research, publishing, art and graphics experience to produce a real gem for those whose roots are in the Dakotas.

From cover to cover, researchers or just browsers of all ages will find eye-catching tidbits, paragraphs, or in-depth pages of useful Dakota history, maps, time-lines, ethnic group history and settlement areas, along with regional, national, and international records and research sites with both postal and Internet addresses throughout the book. The reader's interest is immediately drawn to the layout of each page. The pages, even the usually dreary glossary, bibliography and index sections, are sprinkled with numerous antique graphic illustrations, photos, and data inserts accompanied by cleverly written headings and captions. Even young children would enjoy paging through this book and that could spark their interest to ask their grandparents some of the questions about their lives found in Chapter 5, Interviews.

The other chapters include: Introduction, History, Where to Begin, Just for the Record, Research Sites, Ethnic Roots, High-Tech, Networking, Research Tips, Management, Celebrating Family, and the Appendix with blank census forms, records request form letters and fee schedules for both Dakotas besides other goodies too numerous to mention.

The authors compare genealogy to a personal voyage of discovery not unlike the Voyage of Discovery undertaken nearly 200 years ago by the Lewis and Clark Expedition into what is now known as North Dakota and South Dakota. As we approach the millennium, Winistorfer and Langemo would like to help the readers preserve their own past history for the future generations. The readers benefit from both authors being avid genealogists along with a previous 13-month series of "Tracing Your Roots" columns written by Jo Ann Winistorfer in 1988-1989 as part of the North Dakota centennial celebration which were published in the "North Dakota REC/RTC Magazine." After many requests for back issues, the book, "Tracing Your Roots in North Dakota" was published. This new book, "Tracing Your Dakota Roots" is an update and expansion of the previous book to include South Dakota research along with the new Internet and web research technology and references.

It is hard to find any topic that is not well researched and documented. An extensive American Indian history section with a whole page of research tips and sources is part of the Ethnic Roots chapter. Each of the other major and minor ethnic groups in the Dakotas are included, from the first British Isle people to the more recent professionals from India, Pakistan, Japan and Vietnam, along with mention of North Dakota's most famous black citizen. The Germans from Russia section also provides a history with research tips and sources which includes the Volga, Black Sea, Dobrudja, Volhynian, Galacian, and Mariupol Germans and their Dakota settlement areas. In separate sections, other Germanic and Ukrainian peoples are included.

From adoption records to genealogy myths and scams, from paper and digital records management to writing your family history or planning a family reunion, from discovering Dakota history to what to do if hopelessly stumped, from Dakota Territory to nations around the world, "Tracing Your Dakota Roots" is a treasure of information.

Mary Lynn Axtman is a native of Rugby, ND. She is editor and proofreader for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo. Mary Lynn has compiled and self-published three family histories in 1998 and 1999, for the Bohl, Bickler and Axtman families. She prepared the GRHC website pages at the section "Family Reunions" at http://library.ndsu.edu/gerrus/outreach.html.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
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