Library research leads

Letter L: Twelfth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Online family history research is great — but because there are still so few genealogical resources that have been digitized, library research leads continue to play a significant role in my ancestral journey. And that’s fine.
Gloversville Free Library in Fulton Co., N.Y. On a family history visit here with my mom in 1991, we researched our Italian and German ancestors and met a librarian who knew one of our collateral relatives. Photo: Front Page Gloversville

Some of my most valuable clues and evidence have come from libraries — and the wonderful librarians who work there — both on road trips and by phone. Here are just a few examples.

Pictured is the Gloversville Free Library, which my mom and I visited in August 1991 on a family history trip to her home town. There, we consulted city directories that listed our Italian and German ancestors.

Even better, we met a librarian who knew Lucy Edel — a cousin of my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner,  who my mom said, “could have been her twin.”

She told us Lucy was a career librarian at the Free Library and was very proud that she earned enough money to buy her own house. Now that’s not a story you will find on the Internet!

My dad and I made a similar trip to his Otter Lake home town in August 1991. At the Irwin Library and Institute in Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y., using an ancient microfilm reader, we found the obituary of our Montréal-born ancestor Laurent Charles Charbonneau — a landmark discovery! Alas, we were not so lucky on that trip learning the name of his spouse.

“His wife? His wife?” Dad fumed when he saw her nameless entry in the list of Laurent’s survivors. “Doesn’t she even get to have her name in the paper?”

Helpful librarians: a phone call away

Calls to libraries have also yielded breakthroughs. The Salamanca Public Library in Cattaraugus County, N.Y., maintains a index of newspaper obituaries. With a phone call to their librarian, I was able to obtain the obituaries of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and his mother-in-law, my great, great, great grandmother Hannah (Hance ) Blakeslee.

And when I called a helpful librarian at the Little Falls Public Library in Herkimer County, N.Y., he found and sent me the long-sought-after obituary of my Grand-Uncle Albert B. Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother — who died in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Are there libraries in the towns where your ancestors lived? Check their catalog and resources online, then consider planning a visit to see what genealogical treasures they hold. Not sure where to start? Call their help desk and speak to the librarian. And always send a thank you note, by mail or email, when they help you make a discovery.

Up next: Maps point the way. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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6 thoughts on “Library research leads”

  1. I love the library…nothing beats the unique atmosphere… rows and rows of books on shelves.
    A career librarian who earned enough money to buy her own house? Wow. That’s a story waiting to be told… 🙂
    Visiting via the A to Z Challenge.
    Writer In Transit
    Co-host assistant of Team Joyful Brigade.

    1. Appreciate your comment, Michelle. You’re right, there is just something about a library. And thankfully, even with digitization of records there are still plenty of reference books to line those shelves. Good luck with the rest of A to Z Challenge!

  2. Hi Molly – I am just discovering your blog and catching up. I love reading other peoples’ stories. I too am honouring the many single or childless people on my tree.
    I have written to librarians all over the world asking for information or where to get it and the people I contact have always been most helpful.
    Visiting from AtoZ challenge

    1. Thank you so much for the visit, Dianne. Also just discovered your blog and your A to Z Challenge theme. Loved the photo of the Montreal Homeopathic Hospital in your Letter M post. Hope to stop back as the challenge progresses.

  3. Great advice and excellent examples! I especially liked your advice to send a helpful librarian a thank you note. Haven’t we all fumed about those unnamed wives 🙁

    I once wrote to a UK library asking if there was a death notice or obit in the local newspaper (hoping for descendants etc) and got back an email telling me they had known my grandmother’s brother, and his wife, because they used to deliver books to his home in his latter years. Like you say…not on the Internet, though of course email makes such a difference.

    That’s a magnificent library in Gloversville.

    1. Yes, the Gloversville library was among the most impressive local libraries I visited — and it still looks like that today. Love your story about the UK library staff who knew your maternal grand uncle and his wife. In our quest for documentation, it is also important to pause to appreciate the unique and priceless ancestral stories that come our way.

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