Since I am attending the Federation of Genealogy Societies Societies conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana this week, I had the opportunity to spend several days at the large Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library.
The library itself is huge, and the Genealogy Center is massive. It holds many, many books, and encourages genealogists to submit their own works for reproduction. In this manner they have amassed numerous works not available elsewhere. For those not visiting, some of their collection has been digitized and made available online. I usually access them at this FamilySearch site.
The library has a significant microfilm collection (although somewhat midwestern oriented) and databases which can be used on site. You can learn more about that through genealogist Harold Henderson’s guide to navigating the library and the ACPL Genealogy Center web pages. I got to meet Harold at the conference. At the library, there were many helpful staff and volunteers. The Genealogy Center was a very busy place.
I started in the books, examining some surname books and place-specific books. I pretty much went through the entire Rhode Island section, and noticed some old journals I’d never seen before, and many books I had heard of but never seen. I looked at many other local sections, keeping in mind that state/counties/towns are cataloged in separate sections. As I sat there, I purchased four used books on Amazon or EBay:
- Cumberland by the Blackstone by David W. Balfour and Joyce H. Koutsogiane
- Warwick: A City At the Crossroads (RI) by Don D’Amato
- Elder John Gorton and the Six Principle Baptist Church of East Greenwich, Rhode Island by Cherry Fletcher Bamberg
- Challenging the Regional Stereotype: Essays on the 20th Century Maritimes (Sources in the history of Atlantic Canada) by E.R. Forbes
Otherwise, I took pictures of pages from books (as well as the title pages) for use later, at home. To make sure I wasn’t missing anything I used a list I had compiled from the card catalog before arriving and printed “State and Subject Snapshots” such as the Rhode Island Guide, Connecticut Guide, and Military Guide which are good to walk around with since the call numbers are printed right on the sheets.
There are so many periodicals here that the library offers a unique opportunity to find articles from obscure local history and genealogy periodicals and newletters, as well as the major journals. Access is through the Periodical Resource Index (PERSI) available through Heritage Quest, but created right there at the ACPL. Heritage Quest is available at many public libraries. The difference at the ACPL is that each article should be available right at the library.
The PERSI index is usually for article titles, not ALL content, so exact name matching is often not possible unless your ancestor was mentioned in the title of the article. What works better is to search by place or perhaps just by last name. For very common last names, I added a keyword. In this way I found about 50 articles I would like to see. I saved them to a “notebook”, then emailed the notebook to myself. It looks like this:
I only looked at the articles I needed to while here; the ones which I can access from home will wait. None of the articles were that revealing, in my case, but perusing those obscure journals reminded me of the good work done locally on transcribing records and telling stories; I need to be sure I am accessing such content regularly. There is talk of PERSI moving to a new platform in the near future which will add access to the journal articles themselves online. That would be extremely valuable.
I also found some more serious articles in standard genealogy journals which may not directly address my ancestors but will give many clues in the footnotes for further research.
While at the library, I photographed many sections of books for further evaluation at home. But there was one problem I actually made progress on.
My ggggg-grandfather James Anderson was a Loyalist from Baltimore who ended up in Chester, Nova Scotia after 1785. I used the many Nova Scotia and Baltimore resources at the library to learn more about him. He moved to Nova Scotia with his wife and children but his original family is unknown. While in line at a social event I was chatting with a genealogist from Baltimore, and was able to ask some questions about the neighborhood of Fells Point, where James Anderson had lost his property, and the Baltimore City records. She explained that Baltimore City is also a county, and some other details, and by the time I returned to the library I felt better able to tackle whatever records I could find. A serious search for Loyalist, Baltimore and Nova Scotia records turned up some information I didn’t have:
- An abstract of James’ request to the British government for compensation after the war, with some details of his Loyalists activities, and details of the property he lost. I may be able to obtain the actual record.
- an abstract of a 1765 Fells Point, Baltimore probate record giving James guardianship of the minor daughter of a friend as well as several costly items such as a mirror, silver spoons, and a gilt picture (of “Our Saviour on the Cross”). This led me to believe James may have been Catholic or Anglican.
- a burial record for James as well as for a son in an Anglican graveyard in Chester
and most importantly:
- a 1788 probate abstract for an Anderson in Fells Point who leaves his property to his wife and daughter but urges her to share some property if possible with “my family in Pennsylvania”. If this person could be James’ brother, the Pennsylvania reference could be a clue to their origin.
And to balance things off a bit, I also found a note about my 6x great grandfather, Richard Ballou, being among the Cumberland (RI) Rangers in 1776. He would be my first Rhode Island Revolutionary War soldier, if I can ever prove that.
I still would say that access to an enormous amount of records – such as those on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – is an ideal research environment. I probably looked at hundreds of books during my week at the Allen County Public Library. But books may or may not show helpful sources, and I think many “surname” books rely too heavily on easily accessible records – they compile low-hanging fruit, in other words – on a wide swath of a family and seem to reproduce the same assumptions and mistakes as earlier books. When books contain abstracts, maps, records or local information, they come closer to meeting research needs. And there were plenty of those in the Genealogy Center.
Some things I am taking home from five days at the library:
- a list of older books to access online
- some maps photographed from books
- some articles I copied from journals
- about 300 photographs of pages from books, on various problems
- the 4 used books I already ordered will arrive at home
- a more definite sense that many problems I am working on have not been solved yet
In my next post, some thoughts about the conference itself.
All this work was made possible by the Dunkin Donuts located IN THE LIBRARY near the front entrance.
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