After a brief break for shoveling snowdrifts, Ms. Bossy delivers the promised followup on How to Love Your Library. Just a few more rules (excuse us, suggestions) for making the most of a research trip:
Ask about what’s digitized. If the library has an online catalogue, study it, then call the library with a focused set of questions. You might even strike gold and find that the library has put its collections of photos and postcards online. In many cases, online archives are an ever-evolving work in progress, with materials added as more funding becomes available.
Follow local regulations. They vary greatly. I have researched in libraries where you never, ever browse the holdings; the staff retrieves materials you request. I have been in places where they cheerfully wave you into the archive room with a reminder that they close at 6 P.M.
A very incomplete list of some rules you may encounter:
• Wear white cotton gloves while handling old books and papers, if they ask you to. Even if they don’t, it’s nice to have your own pair – you can find them for $5 a dozen online if you look around.
• Turn pages properly – which you should also do whether they ask or not. Don’t reach for the corners; on old books they are apt to crumble under the pressure of your fingers. Instead, slide a finger carefully under the center of the page edge and gently turn it.
• No pens allowed in the archive room.
• No briefcases or purses in the archive room. (Usually they’ll lock them up for you, and I’ve been able to bring my laptop along, just not my briefcase.)
• No photographing documents.
Obviously not all rules apply in all places. Also obviously, it’s bad form to whine to the librarian that you were able to photograph the ledger pages at the Whatsis Library, so why not here? Not that you would do such a thing, I know.
Thank everybody. A lot. Librarians are some of the nicest people around. (Either that, or they are the most underrated actors imaginable.) I’m amazed at the genuine interest and enthusiasm librarians show when I turn up on their doorstep researching complete strangers. So say thanks. Consider a donation, if you can. And if you live within shouting distance, consider volunteering your services as a transcriber. If that fabulous pamphlet listing prominent Civil War veterans isn’t indexed online, it isn’t out of spite; it’s because there isn’t enough money or time.
Here in northern New Jersey we are stuck inside today, of course. It’s a perfect day to think about blizzards past, if only to make us feel better about the one currently outside the door.
Blizzards are classic stuff of family history legend. (Unless you’re in a hurricane zone, which is a whole other story.) In the New York City area, the Great Blizzard of 1888 continues to exert a fascination, not surprising for a storm that dumped between 40 and 50 snowy inches on the citizenry.
For Chicagoans, the blizzard of 1967 left a vivid impression. And the double punch blizzards of January 1978 and February 1978 made their marks (and memories) across several states. (The February ’78 storm was particularly nasty in Providence, R.I. — if you like blizzard stories, be sure to click here for Rhode Island recollections.)
Another staple of blizzard stories is the incessant arguments about who got how much snow where. Thank goodness the weather service guys have always braved the elements and the controversy on that one:
Incidentally, if you like weather photos (oh, you do, you know you do!) you cannot afford to miss the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s fascinating collection of digital images. Browse around — it’s another excuse to put off shoveling snow, right?
Here are photos of some of my snowstorms past.
Above is my street during the so-called President’s Day blizzard, Feb. 16-17, 2003. Wildly varying snow totals on this one, but I think we got about 20 inches or so in our part of New Jersey.
And this is the aftermath of the great nor’easter of 1996, which I missed, being a resident of Chicago at the time. It was one of those rare moments when my New Jersey family had cold-weather bragging rights over me, so my brother thoughtfully sent me this photo, which I shall always treasure, especially seeing as I did not have to dig these particular cars out.
No, this isn’t a whole lot of snow, per se, but it was noteworthy for southern Indiana, where I was in college at the time. We were quite excited until we realized we hadn’t gone grocery shopping before the storm. I’m sure we managed somehow. College students always do.
Feel free to share some of your own snowy memories, too!
Two sad but true things: One, I have a bossy streak. I prefer to call it an “orderly streak,” but either way, it must be genetic. Not only has it emerged in older relatives; lately I’ve noticed one of my daughters making lists of rules for her dolls.
Two, I can’t help overhearing things at the library, which wouldn’t happen if people remembered to lower their voices, but nobody does anymore, do they?
Based on what I’ve overheard, and seeing as this is National Love Your Library Month, it may be time to share some Rules for Proper Library Researcher Behavior:
Make an appointment. Many libraries are strapped for cash and space. Often this affects who can help you, and when. The “local historian” may be a part-timer or even an occasional-timer who volunteers when they can. The “archives” might be on the shelves in a conference room used for community meetings on alternate Tuesdays. Do not waste your time or the library’s by walking in without notice to research a genealogy question. It’s a recipe for disappointment.
Learn about the holdings before you go. It helps you stay focused on your visit, and it helps the library, in case they need extra time to get something out of deep storage. Some examples:
• Does the library have city directories? What years do they cover?
• Is the local newspaper available on microfilm or in bound copies? Is there a subject index? (If not, see “Do your newspaper homework,” below.)
• Any other local periodicals – magazines, historical society journals, etc.?
• Are there local histories or biographical indexes? When were they written and what towns do they cover?
• Are there any specific family histories or genealogies?
• Any vintage maps, and if so, what time frame?
Do your newspaper homework. If the local newspapers are not indexed (many aren’t), try to narrow your search as much as you can. This might mean reviewing your past notes, taking another hard look at census entries, or reading up on the general history of an historical event. Also, ask ahead about the appearance and general layout of the newspaper. Did it divide its news into local and national sections? Was there always a police blotter? Did it run wedding and engagement notices every day, or once a week? Knowing how the newspaper arranged its information can speed your search.
Whee! Ms. Bossy is having fun. A few more rules — er, tips – in my next post.
The technical term for the treasured sheets of paper might be “handwritten genealogy.” However, in my neck of the woods it is Aunt Catherine’s List, as in: “You’re working on the family tree? You really ought to get hold of Aunt Catherine’s list.”
Aunt Catherine was my father’s oldest sister, and keeper of the family flame. The List is just that, a list of everyone she remembered in our family, starting with my Haigney great-great grandparents and my Kelleher great-grandparents and continuing down the line. Every time a cousin was born, they were added to The List.
I remain forever regretful that my interest in genealogy didn’t take off until after Aunt Catherine passed away, and that I never got the chance to talk with her in any depth about family history. But The List survives!
The List is a combination of first-hand account and family tradition. My aunt was born in 1914, three years after great-great grandfather Haigney died. But many of the relatives on the sheet, including my paternal great-grandparents, were alive well into her adult years, and of course the running tally of cousins is completely hers.
So far, the information on The List has held up to scrutiny pretty well. Through it, I learned about two siblings of Grandfather Haigney who died young. The death certificate for one of these children has helped me pinpoint where my grandfather and his parents must have been living in 1900, a past source of research frustration. The List also names two children of Great-great-grandfather Haigney who died in infancy, an assertion that likely explains the large age gap between his first and second surviving sons.
Treasure though it is, The List is not the final word. As Elizabeth Shown Mills has observed: “We must mentally appraise the credibility of each detail in each document on a fact-by-fact, circumstance-by-circumstance basis.” With that as a guideline, The List should provide me with hours of interesting appraisals for some time to come.
I’ve been feeling guilty because the majority of my ramblings so far have originated with my research into the Irish side of the family. And as we know, there are two sides to every story. In my case, a German side and an Irish side.
So to balance things out a bit, I added this information about my German ancestry. If any of it rings a bell for you, feel free to get in touch!