Finding family

Totem Tracers to hellp locals start family trees
Kari Mohn (left) and Loretta Mattson, Kenai Totem Tracers Genealogical Society members, practice on Wednesday for their "Your Family Tree - Getting Started" presentation to be held at 1 p.m. on March 8 at the Kenai Community Library. Photo by Kaylee Osowski/Peninsula Clarion

Technological advancements may have changed genealogical research methods since Kari Mohn and Loretta Mattson first began tracing their family trees years ago but the duo is keeping up with the times.


On Wednesday Mohn and Mattson, both Kenai Totem Tracers Genealogical Society members, practiced using the Kenai Community Library’s duel television screens and document camera in the meeting room to practice for their presentation called “Your Family Tree — Getting Started.”

Mattson began researching her family tree when her “brother-nephew,” her nephew that grew up in her family like a brother, starting trying to find his real father, she said.

Mohn’s interest started when she was taking a library mini-course at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and needed an idea for a class project. While brainstorming she began to wonder how people get started researching their family trees, so she made it her project to find out.

“It’s addictive,” Mohn said. “It’s a gigantic puzzle.”

Both women have traced their trees back to Charlemagne, king of the Franks and emperor of Western Europe. He was born in the late 740s and died in 814.

“We’re related!” Mattson said and the women laughed.

Before sites like were available the women said they did research in libraries’ genealogy collections and requested birth, death and marriage certificates from government agencies.

Mohn said she used to write letters using her college typewriter and send them to a genealogy magazine asking for help. But she said one of the first resources is your own family.

Mattson met a little bit of resistance when she began her research.

“My dad said, ‘what do you want to know that stuff for?’” Mattson said with a laugh.

She said today there are a lot websites and forums about family tree research; however, she said not to trust everything on the websites because other people who loaded the information may have made a mistake.

Mohn and Mattson will teach the attendees how to fill out pedigree charts and family group records as well as how to use websites like and Find a Grave and genealogy software programs. Other Kenai Totem Tracer members will partner with newcomers to help fill out records. Mohn said participants should bring a pencil and any information about their family.

She said as well as helping people trace their family history, the charts information can be useful for people searching for family members who are still alive and Mohn said she will talk about how to factor in adoption.

While some people may be able to fill out a lot of information, others may get stuck and that’s when online family tracing sites become helpful. If participants become addicted to genealogy, like Mattson and Mohn, they can join Totem Tracers, which meets once a month except during the summer. Dues are $18 per year and members will receive the group’s password to access the site.

The Kenai Totem Tracers Genealogical Society partnered with the library to put on the free community program, which will be held March 8 at 1 p.m.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at