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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.

Family Tree Research

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 25, 2005

Family tree research is time-consuming, tedious, and a great joy for many people in America today. Since the publication of the book; and the release of the movie, "Roots," in 1976, more Americans than ever before have been looking for their ancestors.

Libraries are a prime location of genealogical research, and the Internet has opened doors to information previously not available to the public. Our Library System recently subscribed to Ancestry Library Edition, a commercial database of over 1.3 billion searchable records. This product assumed the market created by the demise of a previous database with a similar name; that database closing its electronic doors in August

The new Ancestry is similar to its predecessor, losing a few files and gaining others.This points to an interesting phenomenon in the acquisition of information for libraries. When we purchase commercial databases, we acquire the license to use them while they exist.  If they close, we lose the information unlike a book published by a defunct publisher, which remains on the shelf.

Ancestry Library Edition was a relatively smooth transition.  The previous provider announced last year that they had lost the rights to some of the database as of the end of library's contract, and another company would be
assuming the rights.We were without Ancestry for about 60 days, as the new company prepared contracts and we negotiated for the rights.This sure isn't picking books from a catalog!

The new Ancestry Library Edition, like its predecessor, is available only on computers in our library system (including all Branches) and is not licensed for home computer use.

The initial screen of ALE starts with a global search of the entire system, which will likely yield too much information.  Even an unusual name yields lists of hits.Moving to Advanced Search allows you to narrow the search by defining years and location.

I suggest that before you sit down to use ALE, you make notes of the names and information that you want to locate. Record any information you already know, as this will make the search easier than a free-for-all entry of any family name you remember. All U.S. Census records from 1790 - 1930 are online, with a digitized image of the actual Census record containing the requested name.

I tried a search of the 1930 Census for a listing of my mother's family, to see how it worked. I first tried using just her name, but a search revealed 1,200 same names,and not hers. It turned out that the Census enumerator had misspelled her last name, omitting a letter. He did the same thing for her uncle and family who lived next door.Since the Census at that time was recorded house by house, it was interesting to see the ledger sheets showing uncles and aunts, and even cousins in the next block. I wonder if the people recording the 1930 Census ever guessed that their work would be the basis for family research in 2005?

In the end, Ancestry Library Edition is a great resource, but your family tree won't come spilling out of the computer.  It will take searching, and work!

If you enjoy detective work, try genealogy.  You might also try our other genealogical databases called Heritage Quest, and our digitized images of local history called The Digital Shoebox.