by Sherry Stocking Kline
First published “The Family Tree” column in Wichita Eagle’s “Active Life” magazine – May 2004.
Before you hit the road this summer with ancestor files tucked into a suitcase and your favorite family tree program loaded onto your laptop, be sure to make one more stop at the library.
Librarians and volunteers experienced in searching for and finding lost ancestors can help you locate resources locally, so doing your homework before you head out the door can save you a lot of time when you get to your destination.
“Some of the information you need may be here at the library,” said Michelle Enke, City Historian, Wichita Public Library, “we have all of the Kansas State and Federal Census, and the complete 1930 census for Oklahoma.” Enke added that other states’ census are available; check http://www.wichitagensoc.org/ for other records and microfilm.
According to Enke, a helpful new tool for Kansans is the Kansas Library Card. The library card will give you access to the Heritage Quest website where you can find U. S. Census images, the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), and more than 25,000 genealogy and history books.
Midwest Historical and Genealogical Society Library is another “must stop” for before-you-go research. According to volunteer Sue McGuire, MHGS has many out-of-state books, more than 600 quarterly newsletters from different states and counties, county histories, and family genealogies.
Search the on-line catalogs of your destination libraries and check on-line at FamilySearch.org for books and resources that you might be able to order at your library or at the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 7011 E. 13th and read ahead of time.
To speed up research in all libraries, learn the Library of Congress numbering system used in academic libraries and the Dewey Decimal numbers for the state/city/county area(s) that you wish to research, Enke said.
“The Dewey Decimal number for Wichita, Kansas is 978.1861 all across the nation,” Enke said.
Before you leave home, make sure that you have the addresses and hours of libraries, courthouses, and cemeteries that you wish to visit. It’s also a good plan to call the Chamber of Commerce in your destination areas, get their hours, addresses, and ask for the names and phone numbers of the local funeral homes.
Both Enke and McGuire rely on Everton’s “Handybook for Genealogists” to get courthouse and library contact information. Enke added that another important resource is the “International Vital Record’s Handbook” listing where each state’s vital records are kept.
And before McGuire or Enke hits the highway they take the information super highway to the USGenweb site to find state and county information.
“Each county web site is different, but many have library addresses, lists of books, courthouse hours, and maps/directions to the cemeteries,” Enke said.
“I prepare as much as possible,” Enke said, “I use the library, the Internet, make phone calls, ask questions, and I make sure that I have my ancestor’s names, dates, and places. It saves time and effort once you get there.”
Before she leaves home, McGuire makes a list of what she wants to find: obituaries, marriage records, land and court records, etc., packs her family group sheets and creates a what-happened-when-family-timeline to double check facts when she arrives at her destination.
“My husband and I spend a lot of time on our summer travels going to cemeteries and courthouses,” McGuire said, “I’ve been to Missouri and several places around.”
“You always have something to search for,” McGuire said, “that’s all a part of the fun of it.”