KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — You can learn to think like a detective and trace your family’s past at Pellissippi State Community College this fall. 

A local genealogist is solving family mysteries and teaching others. 

Sam Maner is teaching people how to explore the resources and concepts of researching family histories at Pellissippi State. 

“I use Find a Grave is a great resource. You can find where ancestors are buried. Even most of the time find photographs of the tombstones where they are buried. Library McClung Collection at East Tennessee Historical Society on Gay Street, one of the best resources around,” said Maner.

Maner says some of the biggest challenges when tracing your ancestry are misinformation and a gap in records. 

“That’s a big thing that you run into is there were courthouse records burned and stuff like that. When the records just aren’t there you know DNA is the only thing you can turn to,” said Maner.

(Photo: WATE)

DNA testing kits have fueled the genealogy obsession, but Maner says he still mainly sticks to paper records. 

His profession has introduced him to several celebrities including Dawn Wells, who was best known for her role as Mary Ann on the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.” 

“She said her father had always told her that her Wells were part of the Wells Fargo family. He was the brother of the Wells Fargo owner; her great grandfather was but he was the scoundrel that went in business with his brother and then turned around and took half the money and left and went to California during the Gold Rush,” said Maner. 

Maner says he hopes in his class people learn how to use records, stories and photos to fill the missing branches in their family tree. 

“I was always told that if you forget the past, you’re liable to repeat it and that’s the big thing. You want to remember your ancestors,” said Maner. 

Enrollment is open for Maner’s next genealogy class in November. It will focus on creating and publishing a family book. 

You can find more information at under the tab titled “Fall 2023 Catalog”.