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Genealogy works as 'brain food' for keeping young

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Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 12:30 am

As year after year passed, Jeane Owen saw her life story slowly slipping away.

Owen, 92, imagined her grandchildren and great grandchildren never knowing the tales of the dairy queen turned beauty queen — how she went from milking cows on her father's farm to working at the Grand Ole Opry and applying makeup for the stars in Branson.

Bent on saving those cherished stories, Owen set out to document her past, first by writing down what stories she remembered while she was in her 70s, then turning those facts and photos into a hard-cover book. Some of those stories she doesn't remember fully now, but reading them through again helps bring everything back to life.

"I milked cows from the time I was 5 until I was 18, the old-fashioned way," Owen said. "And I did everything on the farm there was to do."

After marrying at the age of 18, Owen earned her beautician's license at a beauty school in Springfield and worked as a beautician from Missouri to California and Florida. She was the first in Springfield to administer a cold-wave perm and the first in the city to apply permanent makeup, including eyeliner and filling in eyebrows.

Not one to slow down, Owen gave her last perm at the age of 90.

Looking for help chronicling her life, Owen turned to Sandy Harrel, independent consultant at Creative Memories, a company that helps compile photo albums, scrapbooks and photo books. Harrel helped the Springfield native shape her stories into the book, "From Dairy Queen to Beauty Queen." The two recently presented the book to a room of more than 30 people at the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield.

Others are following in Owen's footsteps and taking an interest in genealogy and penning their families’ stories, said Linda Chesebro, Ozarks Genealogical Society board member and past president. She points to growing society membership as proof.

"Our society has about 450 members, so yes, there are a lot of people in this area that enjoy doing genealogy and saving their memories," Chesebro said. "Everything from personal family to the century farms that are in our area."

Chesebro said the area is rife with workshops and other resources to map one's family lineage. Those wanting to get started should first write down what they know: Start with yourself and your family, then work backward, interviewing the eldest members of your family.

Try several avenues, too, she suggests. The Springfield-Greene County Library has a great genealogy department with staff willing to help. And novice genealogists also can turn to the computer and websites like ancestry.com, which is free at the library.

"The computer is a wonderful help, but it's not gospel, meaning everything you find there must be proven to be true," she said. "Yes, it's a tremendous help, and you might find things there that you hadn't found in a book, but you've got to prove that that is indeed your particular relative."

And don't overlook public records for family members. Those could include marriage, birth and death certificates. Also try to think outside the box and look in school yearbooks and delve into religious history as well.

Chesebro said digging up one's roots can start with a singular goal in mind, but it can often evolve into a hobby. What's more? It also could lead to connections among others with the same interests (i.e. genealogical societies) and people who can offer tips you haven't thought of yet to find family members.

"It's just great fun — and brain food, if you will — for keeping you young," she said with a laugh. "It's putting a big puzzle together and finding all the pieces. When you're missing a piece, you've just got to work until you find it."

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