Getting The Most From Libraries (Part 2)

by Bob Brooke

The best place to start research in any library is with the catalog. No two libraries have the same type of catalog. Each has its own system, some antedating the formation of presently acceptable library principles and practices. Some may be of the card catalog type; others the computerized type.

One library in the New York area, founded in the mid-19th Century, has a general catalog that's similar to a shelf list, but its genealogical materials are cataloged in numerous separate files--Biography, Families, Geographical, Manuscript, Bible and Family Records, Newspapers, and Microfilm. This has been done to aid the family and local historians who are its predominant users.

In direct contrast is any modern library using the Library of Congress cataloging system in which every book is numbered and cross reference cards make it easy to locate materials on numbered shelves. There are many libraries that fall between these two extremes, in having a general catalog of the total library and a separate one in the history or genealogy area. The New Bedford, Massachusetts, Public Library is one such place. Here, all the genealogical materials concerning whaling families are kept in a separate room with its own librarian.

The first materials sought by genealogists are local histories of areas in which their problems may lie. There was a period around the nation's Centennial in 1876 when people began to realize that it had been a century since the United States became a nation and few people had compiled histories of what had happened locally. The result was a rash of state, county, and town histories in which an attempt was made to fill the gap.

Some of the resulting histories are excellent, but most are undocumented. They usually contain information concerning the churches, along with the earliest and later settlers and where they came from. Many of these histories contain biographies of local persons, in which it's possible to pick up useful clues. These historical accounts serve the purpose of giving a great deal of pertinent data that's important not to overlook, for a thorough acquaintance with the area in which a genealogist is seeking records is essential.

None of these collections and publications should be neglected, for they're often the result of careful research in data undiscovered and unknown in the 19th century. Some of it is based on genealogical collections that were made in that period. Genealogies have been written of hundreds of families and of probably as many single family lines.

However, former genealogists didn't document their work. They talked and corresponded with people who gave them information and even sent them family Bible records, but no acknowledgment was made of the source. Much of the data is based on lost documents which has been destroyed. If the author hasn't given proof for his statements, the printed genealogy or the manuscript should be used only for finding clues.

Just because a family line is printed or is in manuscript form deposited in a library doesn't make the data accurate. Perhaps the author wrote that he had found the dates he used in a "Family Record" or "Family Bible" but didn't give the location of either. While this can be frustrating, it gives the researcher hope that such a record may exist some place or that its equivalent may be located in another set of records.

In working with printed or typed genealogical material in libraries, researchers find that, despite library rules prohibiting writing in books or defacing them in other ways, someone has written in statements or dates that correct the text. These don't constitute proof, either. These notes should also only be regarded as clues.

Often overlooked, but of great help, are the periodicals published by genealogical societies at home and abroad. They're the equivalent to trade magazines of the family researcher. For many decades a number of genealogical periodicals have been devoted to the publication of records of families, churches, towns, and cemeteries. The Genealogical Periodical Annual Index contains lists of articles found in most English-language genealogical periodicals.

In every state there's at least one designated library which annually receives a bound copy of all the records created in that state by the many chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). In some states the DAR work has resulted in hundreds of volumes of cemetery, church, family, and public records which aren't available elsewhere. Collections from every state can also be found in the DAR Library in Washington, D.C. All such records must be proven as a requirement for membership.

Library indexes shorten the time a researcher has to spend looking for books and articles. The Newberry Library of Chicago publishes The Genealogical Index in four volumes. There's also the American Genealogical-Biographical Index by Fremont Rider, which includes references to families in the 1790 census. Others on the American Revolution and the Civil War offer valuable material.

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