''Prepare to become addicted.''

That is the advice from Betty Atkinson for people who are contemplating delving into their family histories.

''But it's a good addiction,'' the immediate past convenor of the Papamoa branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists told the Bay of Plenty Times.

The club now had 104 members, with everyone chipping in to ''crack down brick walls'' in each other's research.


And with Family History Month looming in August, the branch will step up its public help sessions to every Friday from 10am to midday at the Papamoa Library.

Atkinson was still researching her family after 20 years and used her extensive knowledge of genealogy to convene a group to help people understand their DNA results.

''We are quite a busy little group.''

DNA had become the new frontier of genealogy in which people go to websites that offered testing for $150 to $200.

She said it was about sharing bits of ancestors that were inside the cells of your body.

DNA testing was a straightforward process. A testing kit arrived in the mail and after spitting or cheek swabbing into a tube, it was couriered back to the laboratory and the results appeared online a couple of months later.

''A lot of skeletons are falling out of the cupboard,'' she said about the results of testing.

Atkinson said it hooked people who wanted to know their ancestry. For instance, they might have heard stories that an ancestor was Fijian but as any genealogist knows, a lot of family stories were half true.


Her own DNA testing had pinpointed the connection with a distant relative. They both knew they were related but did not know exactly where on the family tree. It turned out that one of her ancestors was their ancestor's brother.

Traditional tools for researching family histories included birth, death and marriage records, overseas census records, New Zealand voter lists and electoral rolls and the National Library's Papers Past website.

Atkinson said she still got a buzz helping people get started on the path of understanding where they came from. The club helped people work out how to use the extensive records, with members gaining access to vast records held by the New Zealand society.

She said new members were asked the names of the people they were researching and sometimes found another member had been researching the same family.

''It happens more often than you would expect.''

She will pass the fruits of her research to her grandchildren. ''There are a lot of good stories - it gives people a sense of identity.''

Atkinson, nee MacDonald, has researched both sides of her own family back to 1800 and the 1700s. She traced her husband's family back to 1569 in Ireland, with his other side having a Māori whakapapa.

Good advice for people contemplating researching their family history was to never rely on the current spelling of their name. Variations of MacDonald cropped up in her research, often caused by the carelessness of officials who wrote down the information.

''A lot of people could not read or write in those days.''

Most people took up researching their family history after they had retired but she said there were young faces in the membership.

Other Western Bay branches listed on the New Zealand society's website were Ōmokoroa, Te Puke and Waihī.

Papamoa branch of New Zealand Genealogical Society
- Branch meetings second Monday of every month, Community Centre, 10am-2pm
- Informal help group third Monday of every month, Community Centre, 1.30-3.30
- Public help sessions, last Friday of every month, Papamoa Library, 10am-noon.
- Subscription $15 a year if a member of the New Zealand Society.
- Branch meeting door fees $3 to $5.