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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Ancestry.com

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 13, 2011

I was asked a question by a friend, and felt an obligation to do a search to find as much information as possible to answer the query.

 

It is a library thing, our whole life is consumed with research and information and the constant gathering of bits and pieces of this and that.

 

For the first time this year, I used the library’s Ancestry.com Library Edition database to research and confirm the question, and was surprised at how much the scope of the database had expanded since my last inquiry.

 

After I had found the answer to the question, I looked around Ancestry.com to see what was new, and road tested some of my own family names looking for “anything new.”

 

My family tree was assembled back in the old days of paperbound books, and microfilm, and photocopies of old records from various sources.

 

I periodically poke around the Internet to see if something new has been found relating to my genealogy.

 

Ancestry.com continues to expand, gathering more and more public documents, or materials that are now beyond copyright and in the public domain.

 

Based on my recent search, I don’t think libraries will be going out of business because databases exist online.

 

They are a wonderful new tool, and have helped genealogical research immensely, but you still need your human brain to sort out the information on the screen.

 

Genealogical research hasn’t changed, you write down what you know, and carefully move backward trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.

 

I first entered my grandfather’s name, Okey Hall, and looked at the lengthy list of possible hits before refining my search and entering date parameters

 

He died long before I was born, so any bits and pieces beyond his basic information would be new to me.

 

Aside from his basic information, I found a copy of his World War I registration card, which he completed Sept. 12, 1918.  I knew most of the information that he listed, except the fact that he was 5’ 10’ in height, of slim build, and had blue eyes and black hair.

 

If you know me, it is clear that my physical size is not from Okey.

 

Census records from the early 20th century are fascinating, all handwritten in the order that people lived.  You can find neighbors by their listing on the census, and before transportation was commonplace, those neighbors may become your relatives.

 

My grandmother’s brother lived with them as their “farm hand” according to the Census taker in 1910.  My father, as a baby, was listed as “Harvey” in the 1920 Census, corrected to “Harry” in the 1930 Census.

 

My maternal grandfather’s World War II registration card is now online, but did not contain his physical description like my fraternal grandfather’s earlier card.

 

In 1942, he was 49 years old, but still required to sign up for the local draft board.  He was employed by the New Matamoras Village School Board as the 6th grade teacher, a post he held for 42 years.

 

We are all generating records as we live, and following our death the Social Security lists us online with our S.S. number in an attempt to stop others from using our name and number.

 

Census information is held privately for 70 years, before being released for public use.  The 1940 U.S. Census is close to being released, with genealogists waiting at their keyboards to begin using the information.

 

Today’s Census data will be different, as we no longer use Census takers to record the information, so there will be no lists to search to locate our neighbors.

 

Using ancestry.com requires skill and ability to assemble the information that relates to your ancestors and the added information certainly expands the horizons for research.

 

Perhaps someday we can hit a button and it will all be there on the screen, but in the meantime, it will require brain cells to gather, sort, and interpret the information.