Saturday, May 30, 2009

In 1969, I started my genealogy research with curiosity, a pencil, a pen (oh horrors), a three ring binder, and family group sheets from Evertons. The curiosity was free, the pen, pencil and binder were leftovers from the previous school year but the genealogy sheets were fresh and they cost twenty-five cents apiece. I was very careful with these pages and I am certain I made illegal (gasp) photocopies of these pages. I can see myself quietly going over to the copier when Miss. Neil Carpenter, the archivist, was busy making copies and then sneaking back to my chair, before Miss. Carpenter or the copyright police caught me. Remember, I was a thirteen-year old kid with an active imagination and my source of income was mowing yards, so cost was definitely an issue.

The archive was in my local library where it shared half of the basement with the children’s department. Full bookshelves covered two walls of the archive. Many of the books did not have indexes but a few of them had an index created by a volunteer who read each page, noting who and what page, alphabetized that list, and then typing it all up. Covering a third wall there were vertical file cabinets. These cabinets contained the ubiquitous manila files that were full of genealogically significant articles clipped from the local newspapers by many volunteering hands and hearts.

Miss. Carpenter and volunteers from the local Genealogical society zealously guarded all of these books and files. I remember a few volunteers (Mrs. Payne, Mrs. Roberts and Miss. Hadden). I attended beginning genealogy classes taught by Mrs. Payne and Roberts. I remember talking with Miss. Carpenter; she was a friend of my Grandmother, who had recently passed away, and after school, I did yard work for Miss. Carpenter. I once asked her if she had researched her family and she said that she never had and that it did not interest her. I remember shaking my wise thirteen-year-old head not understanding. How could anyone have no interest in his or her genealogy! Miss Carpenter also told me about the arthritis in her hands and that she believed it was from using her manual typewriter to answer the years and years of research queries, she had received.

Now forty years later, I still visit that same archive, but now it is housed in it own room on the second floor of a new addition to my old library. Today I am using a computer, loaded with a popular genealogical software application. I have access to online databases, forums, and mailing lists courtesy of the World Wide Web, but the pencil, curiosity and imagination still come in handy. Something else that still comes in handy today is the manually created indexes and the vertical files, created by the tireless volunteers I knew back then. They helped me then and are still helping me today; they have left a mark on me and I bet some volunteers have done the same for you.
Just a re-post of my May 2009 newsletter article.

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