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Cleve Kimmel found that he's a third cousin of World War II Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and a distant cousin of the late comedian Red Skelton.

Louise Erekson is a descendent of Greenberry Choate, an American Revolutionary War soldier who was among those defeating the British at King's Mountain, S. C., in 1780.

Anita Smith discovered that one of her direct ancestors, Jonathan Wells of New York, fought in the War of 1812.

Even if you don't find any illustrious forbearers on your family tree, tracking generations of relatives can be fun — and addictive.

Anita Smith admits that she has an itch to do some genealogical research every day.

"My children aren't that interested," she said. "They don't understand my addiction."

Smith, the Yellowstone Genealogy Forum's co-president with P.J. Smith, has been interested in searching her roots since 1957.

By the 1970s, her five children were old enough so she could begin her hunt in earnest. She was among the earliest members of the forum when it was started in 1977, a few months after the television series "Roots" aired.

" 'Roots' spurred us on," said Louise LaRue, another longtime member.

Even after Smith had thoroughly researched her direct ancestors, she couldn't quit. So she delved into her collateral family lines.

Smith has taken her search all the way to Scotland and Wales, where her ancestors were originally from.

Genealogists treasure human stories that pop up.

Bob Erekson's great-grandfather was sent by Brigham Young to California to bring horses back to Utah during the gold-rush days. While there, Erekson's ancestor panned for gold before heading home. When his party ran out of food, he had to boil hide and leather for broth to drink. Family legend has it that, if the men had to be on the trail one more day, they would have starved to death.

Genealogy not only brings you closer to your relatives, it provides a bridge to the past as well.

"You've got to love history," said Donna Jones, assistant director of the LDS Family History Center.

The long, sometimes-fruitless slog through documents also provides another benefit.

"It does teach you patience," Jones said.

Sometimes a genealogist uncovers information that's not comfortable to learn.

"Genealogy is not always easy to take," LaRue said.

Some people get emotional about certain deaths — particularly suicides.

Although genealogy research has long been popular, computers and the Internet have revolutionized it. Genealogists now have a way to get at more information less expensively and have a more efficient way to store and sort information.

There are several good genealogy computer programs, said Billings genealogist Bob Erekson. He uses Personal Ancestral File. Other forum members use Ancestral Quest and Family Tree Maker.

Which one you chose depends on what you get used to.

"Like some people like Fords or Chevies," he said.

To help people using different software share information, a file-format specification called Gedcom (Genealogical Data Communication) allows them to trade files. More on Gedcom can be found at www.familysearch.org.

As vast as the Internet is, it has its limits.

"People think that everything is on the Internet, but it's not," said Athna May Porter a member of the forum who has been doing genealogy researched for 23 years.

She estimates that only about 10 percent of genealogy information can be found online.

Because online information is only as good as the person who puts it there, researchers should verify everything that they find online, said Donna Jones, assistant director of the LDS Family History Center in Billings.

When you find a fact online, use the same techniques that you use doing research with traditional methods, according to the "Complete Idiots Guide to Genealogy," by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls.

"Be systematic, working from the known to the unknown. Keep a record of where you've been and what you did. Cite sources completely," Rose and Ingalls say.

Another downside to technology is learning how to use it.

Fortunately, there are people in Billings who enjoy helping novices.

Technology also has made it cheaper to integrate photographs of ancestors into genealogical information.

"Photos are frosting on the cake," said LaRue, who has complied photographic family trees going back to her great-grandparents.

She also has created loose-leaf notebooks with family trees and photos tailored for groups of family members.

There's enough to genealogy to last a lifetime, even a very long lifetime.

Bob Erekson, who is 85, has been doing research since he was 14.

When asked if he's finished his research after so many years, he replied, "What's that? You are never done."

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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