Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1
Did you know there is a gem of a genealogical resource right in your own backyard? Well, at least in your own neighborhood—and also in just about every neighborhood where your ancestors lived. The public library is one of the most underestimated sources of genealogical information around! It’s free. It has better hours than most government-run agencies. There are staff with research skills, knowledge of their locale and knowledge about their collections. I have invited Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to join us here on the podcast. In this episode she’s going to give us the inside scoop on the unique genealogical resources that are tucked away in public libraries just waiting to be discovered.
What’s at the library?
Each library has unique materials for its locale. Examples include:
Partnerships with local societies and clubs, and organizations (access to databases)
Unique library expertise
TIP: Check with the public libraries in each location where your ancestors lived TIP: Genealogy holdings vary, and often have to do with what local constituents want.
TIP: Get involved and make requests at your local library if you want more genealogy resources.
How to prepare for your visit
Determine your questions ahead of time and gather the appropriate ancestor information to take with you.
See if they have a genealogy area on the website. There are lots of things on the library website that are not in the catalogue (special exhibits, digitized images, and databases) Don’t just jump straight to the catalogue.
Search the online catalog and identify the books and resources you want
Look for the geographic area, not the person’s surname (town, county, geographical area)
Use the Advanced search – “you don’t have to be an advanced researcher to use the advanced search!”
Don’t use the word “genealogy” in your search. It’s pretty useless.
4 more tips from Lisa and Patricia
Email in advance – ask some questions ahead of time:
Is the website up to date?
Reconfirm hours of operation
What’s the best time to come for more service?
Is wi-fi available?
Do you need change for copy machines?
Are there any special collections you should know about?
Do they offer orientations?
Plan a group visit: Some libraries will make special accommodations for a group visit. Ask if they will provide a tour geared to genealogy. And they may have a meeting room where you can have lunch or meet. It’s a small investment in time and money to make sure that you’re going to get the most of the time you’re going to spend there.
Get their expertise! Librarians don’t just know the collection, but they also know research strategy, collection contents, all the questions that have come before, and local area resources.
Phrase your questions for success: Pose questions in terms of a query. For example: “I’m trying to find evidence of someone’s death during this time frame. What materials do you have that may help?” (Don’t just ask specifically for obituaries or government death records—they may not have one but they may have other resources you’re not thinking of.)
Tune in next week to Episode 35 to learn more about researching at the public library, like tips for advance searching those online card catalogs, thinking like a librarian, unique collections at librarians and the types of questions you can ask your public library staff.
Pat’s tip: When someone is shy about sharing life stories, interview them informally while traveling. Pat uses her iPad to transcribe his responses, then polishes it up when she gets home and transfers it to her own computer. “Eventually we will have enough to write the story of his life, with lots of pictures. And it’s completely painless.”
MAILBOX: GOOGLE BOOKS SUCCESS STORY FROM KIM
Click here for another inspiring genealogy discovery using Google Books?with how-to tips and a free video preview of Lisa Louise Cooke’s Premium video tutorial, “Google Books: The Tool You Need Every Day”
MAILBOX: “WHERE I’M FROM” POEM SUBMISSION
Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 185: Learn more about the “Where I’m From” poetry project and hear a conversation with the original author, Kentucky poet laureate George Ella Lyon.
THE ARCHIVE LADY: HISTORICAL SCRAPBOOKS
Scrapbooks are one of my favorite record sources to do genealogy research in and to also process in the archives. There are all kinds of scrapbooks; each and every one is unique and one-of-a-kind. They were put together with love and the hope that what was saved and pasted onto those pages will be remembered.
The origins of scrapbooking is said to go back to the 15th century in England and it is still a hobby enjoyed by many today. Most archives, libraries, historical and genealogical societies have scrapbooks in their collections. They will most likely be found in the Manuscript Collection as part of a specifically named collection.
Scrapbooks contain all kinds of wonderful genealogical records, photographs and ephemera. There is even a scrapbook in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives that has candy bar wrappers pasted in it. This particular scrapbook is one of my absolute favorites. It was compiled and owned by Evelyn Ellis and dates to the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Among the normal newspaper clippings and event programs are interesting pieces such as a Baby Ruth candy bar wrapper with a handwritten note by Evelyn that reads “Always remember June 11, 1938 at Beach Grove at the Ice Cream Supper.” There is also an original ticket pasted into the scrapbook from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee where Evelyn Ellis visited and recorded her comments on April 1, 1939.
There are scrapbooks for just about any subject. Aside from personal scrapbooks, you can find war scrapbooks, obituary clipping scrapbooks and scrapbooks that collected and recorded local or national events. The obituaries found in scrapbooks could be a real find because sometimes they are the only pieces of the newspaper that survive and can be a treasure trove for any genealogist. Many scrapbooks contain one-of-a-kind documents, photographs and ephemera.
To find scrapbooks in an archive, ask the archivist if they have any scrapbooks in their records collections. Many times scrapbooks are housed with a particular manuscript collection and will be listed in the finding aid. Some archives have a collection of just scrapbooks that have been donated to them and can be easily accessed. Most scrapbooks will not be on research shelves and will be stored in back rooms at the archives and will have to be requested. You should also check the archives online catalog for any listings of scrapbooks before you jump in the car and drive to the archives.
I encourage all genealogists to check with the archive in the area where your ancestors were from and see if they have any scrapbooks in their archived records collections. Scrapbooks are like time capsules: you don’t know what will be found in them until you open them up.
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.
RootsMagic family history software has publishing tools (for print and online publishing):
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
A BRILLIANT WAY TO “MEET” YOUR ANCESTOR
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shared this story from Christine:
“Friday night I brought out large cut out of my Grandmother, Christine Doering, sitting in an easy chair so it looks like she is talking with you, and I played a recording done in 1970’s of her talking and giggling about coming to America in 1896 at the age of 9. For some they had never heard her voice before.”
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode #211 with Lisa Louise Cooke
Photo Credit: Beth Forester
In this episode, host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke talks with Barry Moreno, Historian at Ellis Island. Hear about the life cycle of this busy U.S. immigration station (1892-1954) and Barry’s research into thousands of Ellis Island employees who worked there.
More Episode Highlights
Archive Lady Melissa Barker tells us about the National Archives Citizen Archivist program and Lisa profiles a volunteer effort coordinated by the British Library to geo-tag thousands of old maps that are already online.
A giant genealogy lost-and-found! Two listeners write in about rescuing old artifacts and returning them to those who might be interested.
Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss talks about Official Military Personnel Files for 20th-century US servicemen and women?files that were unfortunately partially destroyed. Hear what he learned about his grandfather.
“Share Your Life Stories More Meaningfully” Premium Video
Every life is fascinating when it’s well shared! Learn from the author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy what stories you have that are worth telling–and several inspiring reasons to write them. Review different kinds of memories, why some memories are more vivid that others, and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories.
What can you do with a collection of unidentified photos?
Return them to a loving home. In this case, it was a local historical society. Linda wisely kept the collection together because often there’s power in what some of the photos may tell you about others.
Get them digitized and online so those who want them can find them. The historical society put images on Find A Grave memorials and Iowa GenWeb. They even plan to display them for locals to look at personally and try to identify!
Historical and genealogical societies can also share mystery photos on their websites (or their local library’s website if they don’t have their own) or on their blogs, Facebook pages or even in their regular newsletters. These are great conversation pieces, especially when you can later report that you have solved the mystery! (Click here for more tips aimed at supporting genealogy societies.)
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommendsRootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
MILITARY MINUTES: OFFICIAL MILITARY PERSONNEL FILES
The military service files for your ancestors who served during the twentieth century or later are located at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO as part of the National Archives. The files are called the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) and are available for each of the military branches; namely; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.
Researchers should be keenly aware of the devastating fire that occurred on July 12, 1973 at the research facility that destroyed or damaged between 16-18 million service files from the United States Army and the Air Force. Remember that the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.
Watch the video below for an example of a family history video made with Animoto:
Barry Moreno is a leading authority on the history of Ellis Island, the famous receiving station for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892-1954. He has worked in the Museum Services Division at Ellis Island for more than a decade. He is the author of several books, including Children of Ellis Island, Ellis Island’s Famous Immigrants (including Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, and Max Factor) and Encyclopedia of Ellis Island(which includes information on displaced persons).
Ellis Island: Historical highlights
Prior to 1890, immigration was handled by the states (primarily New York, as most passed through the Port of New York).
1920-1921: New regulations cut down immigration dramatically. Each country had quotas that could not be exceeded. New regulations were passed requiring immigrants to
have a passport from their home country
have medical examinations
pay a tax to the American Consulate in their home country.
During the last 30 years, Ellis Island mostly handled immigrants who were “in trouble.”
Starting in the 1930s some immigrants arrived by air (Colonial Airways from Canada). After WWII, Air France started service, and German and Italian airlines came in the 1950s.
Ellis Island was closed in 1954 by President Eisenhower. Immigrants who were still detained when it closed were sent to jails.
After 1954, Ellis Island was still used by the Coast Guard for training and by the Public Health Services department.
Barry’s research on workers at Ellis Island:
Most employees were men. Interestingly, blue collar men tended to die before age 60, and better educated ones lived much longer.
Female employees were typically widows, unmarried or had husbands who did not support them. “Char woman” was a common role held by Irish, Swedish and German women. Char means “chores” (cleaning women). They worked often for about $400/ year with no pension, and lived to old ages.
A nursery was opened at Ellis Island; many Christian missionaries worked there. Ludmila Foxlee (1885-1971) was one of them, a social worker with the YWCA. Click here to read more immigrant aid workers at Ellis Island.
Three more great resources for discovering the stories of your immigrant ancestors:
In Lias’s free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast (episodes 29-31), genealogist Steve Danko covers immigration and naturalization records in depth and even offers up some little-known tips about deciphering some of the cryptic notes researchers often find on passenger lists.
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Contributor: Your DNA Guide
Michael Strauss, Contributor: Military Minutes
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
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Combining DNA test types can give you a better picture of your overall genealogical relationship to someone else. DNA expert Diahan Southard shares an example from her family about how she used different DNA tests to solve an adoption mystery. Combine your autosomal...