“Old School” Genealogy

I recently started a new job as a Local & Family History Librarian in St. Joseph Co., Indiana. (Dream job, I know.) I am loving every minute of it so far! The library has a beautiful genealogy department and a treasure chest of resources. If you are in the area, you should definitely take a look!

In my second week there, the entire network went down and stayed down for hours. That meant no internet, but also no access to our local files! My colleague and I were just getting started on a research query and we were suddenly cut off from all our databases, including the library’s home-grown digital archive and obituary index.

Genealogists may have spent decades searching sources before the internet, but we have become completely dependent on it now! I admit I grew up in the “post-paper” era. 95% of my genealogical research and recording takes place on a computer. The only paper records I keep are those I inherited. In fact, thanks to the internet, it only took me about 6 months to recreate 20 years of my grandmother’s offline genealogy work.

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So how could we carry on with our research at work that day?? Books and microfilm, of course! Need a burial from FindAGrave? We hauled volumes of cemetery and census indexes off the shelves that have been superseded by electronic databases. How about a city directory? We dug those out of the stacks too.

2018-03-15 17.02.50We even loaded up reels of census records on microfilm! When was the last time you had to do that? I just have to laugh that two librarians surrounded by books spent a minute scratching their heads before turning to the old standbys.

Don’t forget to take a peek at some of these analog sources that have fallen to the wayside. Browsing an alphabetized census index is great when an enumerator or transcriber has mangled a name’s spelling. Microfilmed vital and cemetery register books make browsing by date a breeze. Not all county histories have been digitized and might help puzzle out a family’s story. What else has been published in print that you have overlooked?

Hey, sometimes even librarians can forget books in the middle of a library! This time we just needed a kick in the wifi to remind us that genealogical information is all around us. Next time you wonder why these things are gathering dust on a shelf, just remember you can always count on “old school” genealogy!

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