Digging for roots: Treasure trove of genealogical resources available at libraries
Almost everything can be found online these days and historical records are obviously among the treasure trove of information known as the internet. For the genealogist, however, many of the most important records can only be found on a bookshelf or in a drawer.
The Southern Oklahoma Library System has plenty of resources – digital and traditional – for the family investigator to uncover previously unknown roots. Both popular websites and obscure documents found at libraries could be what’s needed to finally understand your own family tree.
Neshia Crane, branch manager at the Love County Library, has taught over a dozen genealogy classes at SOLS branches. While the pandemic may have slowed down the pace of classes, the number of resources available to library patrons keeps increasing.
She said cardholders have access to multiple online genealogical databases including Fold3 for military records and Ancestry.com for broad searches of census records and other resources compiled by users.
“Having access to Ancestry through the library, I think that has encouraged more people to look at their family history because to subscribe to it is actually pretty expensive,” said Crane.
Her classes, which have seen anywhere from six to 18 students take part, can teach the basics of using the online ancestry resource. Students can learn how to complete advanced searches and how to modify search tools to narrow down results.
“I show them examples of records I have found and the importance of the information and not necessarily the spelling or exact dates because a lot of that information was taken verbally,” she said.
Many online genealogical searches will result in dead ends but Crane said research should not end there. For the eight branches of SOLS, unique items not found anywhere online could be where that missing puzzle piece has been hiding.
“We also have physical items in the library as well. I know Tishomingo has some cemetery records and I have a whole shelf of genealogy information here in Marietta,” she said.
For example, her Love County branch includes a Texas census from 1860 — only 16 years after it became a U.S. state — and local burial records. The branch is also home to multiple family trees unique to southern Oklahoma.
“A lot of these are personally compiled. I have one for a Colbert family where someone decided to put this together and it basically tells what they believe on the facts they found about their family history,” said Crane.
“A lot of times if someone passes away and they’ve compiled a family history and they don’t have someone to pass it on to, sometimes it just gets donated to us for people to use as a reference for other people to use.”
Because of the records found nowhere else, genaelogists from across the country have called Crane to inquire about local collections. Requests often circulate around newspaper articles and obituaries.
Similarly, southern Oklahoma genealogists can also search for documents from across the country or across the world. Crane said she once helped a patron track down an ancestor that had moved from Spain to Columbia to the United States.
But just because the records can be located doesn’t always mean that the answers have been found.
“We do have access to other countries’ records. If you have ancestry from Germany we can get those records but I can’t read them. Obviously, I don’t speak German,” she said.
As the mission begins to uncover previously unknown branches of your family tree, the internet can be a fantastic place to start but the local library will likely be a stop along the way.
“You can always call reference at any of the libraries and we can help you find what you need,” said Crane.