Helping others cultivate their own family trees

By Megan Moser

When people come to Misty Gandara to learn how to get started in genealogy, she always tells them the same thing: “Start with yourself!”

“You want to prove that somebody was on this Earth on a certain time on a certain day,” she said. “Find a census record, a birth certificate, a marriage certificate. Keep notes. Keep a journal. Leave a paper trail.”

Gandara teaches a beginning genealogy class at UFM Community. In four weekly sessions, she leads students through basic family tree construction and use of online tools. In the fourth class, she takes them to the family history center at the local LDS Institute, which is connected to the church’s national records archive and open to the public. A new round of classes will begin this Thursday.

Gandara, who has been a bus driver trainer for USD 383 for 20 years, said she loves helping people learn about their provenance.

“It just brings your family together,” she said. “It’s not a spectator sport.” (Although the producers of the popular TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” in which celebrities root out their ancestors, might disagree.)

In the office of her home on Fremont Street where she lives with her husband, Paul Yarborough, Gandara has shelves of books on genealogy and binders full of photos and information — a different binder for each part of the family.

Gandara became interested in genealogy when she discovered a link with her own ancestors.

She grew up not knowing her father — she met him only once, she said. But her mother was married four times, so she was always around stepfathers and half-siblings.

“Always when I would go to grandpa and grandma’s, I was the odd man out,” she said.

As an adult, Gandara said her mother sent her to meet her paternal grandfather, who lived in the mountains of West Virginia.

“Right near his house, maybe 500 steps from his back door, there was the family graveyard,” she said. “My great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, they were all right there. It was amazing.”

Suddenly, she felt connected to a part of her family she had never known. And she wanted to learn more.

Gandara uses online tools such as — her subscription to the site was a Christmas gift — for her genealogical research. But she has also had great luck with low-tech methods. Years ago, when she was working as a volunteer history specialist at the LDS family history center, Gandara was looking for information on some Italian ancestors, and she was told to go to the Riley County Historical Society. Since her family wasn’t from Kansas, she didn’t see the point.

“I thought, ‘I’m here, but I’m not from here,” she said. But she found a book called “Sons and Daughters of Italy in America” that was published in Pittsburgh, which is where her relatives had lived. She sent a letter to the group that produced the book, asking if any of her ancestors were members.

One day, out of the blue, she got a call. The man on the other end said, in a deep voice, “So you’re a Gandara. What do you want?”

She said, “What do I want? You called me.”

The man said he was the president of the group in Pittsburgh, and he was headed to Italy the next day. He was offering to get her whatever information she wanted about her family. Gandara told him she wanted to know who their parents were and when they got married.

He went to the church of the town the family had lived in — a place “in the ankle” of Italy, she said — and researched it for her.

“I believe that when your family wants to be found, you’ll find them,” she said.

Gandara reaches for a portrait of her great-grandfather who had a long white beard and 13 children. She points to a double frame with photos of her mother as a young woman and her daughter at the same age. They look strikingly similar, and not just because both photos show them when they joined the Navy.

But she’s most interested in showing off pictures of her kids and grandkids than relatives on the more distant limbs of her family tree. She has nine grandchildren, their faces lining the walls.

She mentions that she’s thrilled to be featured in the newspaper: Not for any desire for the spotlight, but because it will leave a record of her for future generations to find.

“It’s a paper trail,” she said. “It’s proof that I was here on this day, in this place.”

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