It wasn’t her History degree, family bible or collection of family photos and papers her father had given her years before, but a 1977 television special on Alex Haley’s Roots that sparked Diann’s interest in genealogy. She developed her family research skills by attending many classes and seminars from the American Association of University Women and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“LDS”). Her father’s collection proved invaluable as a research starting point . . . his attention to detail – notations of dates, names and in some instances, places of birth, were well documented. Like many of us, she became passionate about tracing family stories that were passed down and discovering the untold stories behind those photographs. Her parents and in-laws were able to provide some information and family clues, but many details would only be uncovered through research.
Diann was employed by IBM in Cincinnati, Ohio and again later in San Jose, CA, which provided her good exposure to the early personal computers at about the time the LDS software PAF became available. “It wasn’t easy doing research back then. It was during the pre-indexing days. There was just some small things on the computer.”
She retired after about a decade with IBM and took a hiatus from genealogy to raise her son, but her passion for family history remained. She returned to IBM in the late 1980’s and found co-workers were also interested in genealogy.
The first real breakthrough was in finding her grandmother,
Elsa Svensdottor (Svensson or Swanson) in the LDS microfiche files. From there, Diann was able to trace her lineage back to the late 1700’s. She remembers hearing stories of her grandmother Elsa being ‘a staunch Lutheran’, who “would turn over in her grave if she knew she was blessed in the Mormon Church”. As it turned out, two of Elsa’s sisters in Sweden became Mormons and had her baptized by proxy.
“We had the biggest breakthroughs, you cannot even begin to believe.”
Diann’s brother became interested in genealogy and encouraged her family research efforts. He travelled with her in 2001 to visit Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic to further investigate their family’s history. By chance, prior to the trip Diann read an article advising anyone doing family research in Copenhagen to begin with a visit to the ‘earliest church‘ there. Other than knowing her grandfather was from Copenhagen, she had little else other than his name and birthdate. Yet while abroad, they experienced pivotal breakthroughs. Following the article’s advice, she and her brother visited one of Copenhagen’s earliest churches – Church of Our Lady (Vor Frue Kirke), and remarkably, found her grandfather’s name (Louis Theodore Hansen) and birthplace. With this information, they were able to visit the house where he was born, just off the Stroget in Old Town. This was her first clue into her Danish roots. Click below to hear Diann describe her breakthrough.
At the Family History Library in Copenhagen she located birth records for their great grandparents – Caroline Severine Sorensen, born in Ronne Bornholm, (a Danish island in the Baltic Sea) and Hans Hansen, born in Brondbyoster (about 5 miles from Copenhagen). They discovered Caroline was related to the royal line of Europe through her mother, a distant member of the Folke family in the 1200’s.
Travelling on to southern Sweden, luck was with them again. Diann and her brother visited a local Lutheran church in Kyrkhult Blekinge Provence and with the help of a woman (Maj-Britt Sunden) there, were taken to the farm where their grandmother had been born. As it turned out, Maj-Britt had also done research on the family and was in fact, their distant relative!
Diann Biltz has been a member of the Siuslaw Genealogy Society since 1997. As a testament to her continuing passion for family research, she has been to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City at least 6 times. For many years, she has assisted newcomers just getting started in genealogy and remains a resource to the seasoned researcher as well. She is an inspiration to us all with her knowledge, experience and willingness to help others in their ancestral search. Diann and her husband will be relocating to McMinnville next month. We wish them well, and while we pledge to stay connected, we will miss her presence at meetings, events and the research library. Good luck Diann, and thank you for your many years of friendship, guidance and leadership.
Her advice to all genealogy enthusiasts:
“It’s an evolution, take advantage of everything you have.
Take classes and STAY CURRENT!”