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Hit the Library Before You Hit the Road!

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.”

Keep Your Family History From Ending up in the Dumpster

By – Sherry Stocking Kline
Printed in Wichita Eagle’s Active Life Magazine – Aug 04

The nightmare of many genealogists is that the minute they die their kids will haul years of family history research, one-of-a-kind documents, and priceless photographs out to the curb for the first trash truck that comes along.

What can you do to keep countless hours of research and family history from becoming part of tomorrow’s landfill?

First, make sure you have something someone will want to keep. If you leave behind a jumbled up pile of unidentified photographs, mixed-up documents, and notes with no organization, your genealogical heir may throw up his (or her) hands and throw in the towel.

Your research “has a much better chance to be saved if it’s organized,” said Donna Woods, former librarian for Midwest Historical and Genealogical Society.

“My granddaughter’s husband sat me down one day,” and told me that I needed to get it (my genealogy materials) in some kind of order because if something happened to me they wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

Woods said that she doesn’t believe it makes any difference what system you use, just that you use one, and don’t use the ‘pile-it’ method, though she added that she still does “have a few piles” even after organizing with file folders and notebooks.

“Mark in your books which ones are keepers and should not leave the family,” Woods said, adding she wrote a note inside the cover of each book that pertain to the family.

Nancy Sherbert, curator of Photographs, Kansas State Historical Societysuggested that you label documents, write on photographs, and organize materials into family groups alphabetically. Sherbert said photographs without identification or dates have very little meaning to family members or as historic documents.

“We don’t think about that when we take our photographs,” Sherbert said, “we know who they are. But when we’re gone, others can’t appreciate the historical value of those photographs because they don’t know who the people are, what they are celebrating, and why they are all together.”

Woods said you should have a really serious discussion with your family, and see if someone is interested in your genealogy work.

“It may not be your child,” Woods said, “it may be a grandchild or a niece or nephew.” Woods’ daughter was not interested in furthering her genealogy research, but a discussion with a granddaughter in her mid-twenties rewarded Woods with a possible new home for her research.

“I’m so glad that you are doing this, Grandma,” said Wood’s mid-twenties granddaughter, “I want to do it someday, but I can’t do it right now.”

Preserving your family’s history doesn’t necessarily mean keeping all the information in your immediate family. Woods said she made the decision to place some of her research where it would do the most good, in the two counties in Illinois where her ancestors originally resided.

“It makes a lot more sense to place my research there in those counties,” Woods said, “for other researchers to find.”

Once you’ve made sure that no one in your family wants your collection, the safest way to keep your materials out of the dumpster, according to Sherbert, is to add to your will “I’d like for my photographs, letters, and diaries to be donated to…….

“Go ahead and establish some kind of collection with an institution,” Sherbert said, “and make it clear to your executor and family that remaining materials are to go to the institution.”

“Just make some sort of arrangements,” Sherbert said, adding that materials donated to a historical society, library, or museum should be preserved and available for research for decades “unless there is some kind of preservation problem.”

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