Here is part two of my interview with Charlene Clemons, Assistant Director of the Ellsworth Public Library. Charlene is our go-to person for any questions relating to genealogy, so I thought I would ask her to share her advice for beginning genealogists. In case you missed part one of the interview, it can be found here.
Could you recommend a couple of good online resources for people who are interested in researching their family’s history?
Probably the best investment would be Ancestry.com. There are two levels of membership, one for just the United States and one that includes worldwide records. The thing to watch for is the type of record you are finding. More and more records on Ancestry are scans of original certificates and these are great resources. You want to use as many “primary source” documents as you can find. Be careful of using “family trees” or transcriptions of records that people have put on Ancestry or any other site. They are a good jumping off point, but you need to find primary sources for any information you see on a family tree.
Depending on your area of research, there are any number of sites designed to help you, some free and some subscription. “Family Tree” magazine (which we have at the library) offers lists of the best web sites about once a year. I would say go with what you can afford. Try out a pay site by signing up for the shortest time they offer, then you have a chance to unsubscribe if you are not finding the information you need.
What advice would you give to a beginner genealogist who may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start?
1. Start simply. Do you want to do your own family tree? Start with yourself, write down everything you know, date and place of birth and marriage; places where you lived and went to school; parents’ names, date of birth, marriage and death; grandparents, etc. Make sure to prove every record with the appropriate birth, marriage or death certificate. Interview living family members and even long-time friends and neighbors of family members. Everyone has a different take on events and may just give you the clue you need.
2. Is it just one family line you want to work on? Perhaps your maternal grandfather’s family? Start with that person and figure out what you know and what you need to know.
3. Remember to record all your sources, their locations and when you found them. That way if there is any question that you or other researchers have later the source can be found.
4. Visit a meeting of your local genealogical society, they will be glad to help you. Join an online genealogy discussion group. Read the genealogical how-to books. Talk to other folks researching in the library at the same time you are.
5. Most of all, be open to what you find. Sometimes information appears in places and from people you would never expect. Make notes and find proof one way or the other.
What is unique about Ellsworth Public Library’s genealogy collection?
A few things. While many collections are created using a bibliography of what every genealogy collection should include this collection was created by a person who had some experience doing genealogy research in libraries and knew how frustrating it could be when a librarian wasn’t interested in helping you find what you needed in the collection or when the collection was spread all over the library either in open or closed stacks. (Especially closed stacks!) Because of that, the collection was set up as a sub-collection so that almost anyone walking in off the street could find their way around it. Often they need help getting started but once they are in the area, they usually find much more than they hoped for.
Another thing that makes the collection unique is the vast number of unpublished genealogies that folks have donated to us over the years. Some of these are large notebooks or spiral bound books they have had printed, but many others are just a few pages long, such as the three notebooks of “Hancock County Genealogical Society Papers”. Members who do research on someone’s family make a copy and add it to the notebooks. Very often the bits of information there will lead other researchers to new avenues in their own family genealogy. Probably 95% of the family names covered in the collection are listed in the database as a subject making it easy for folks to find a particular family.
Then there are the private collections we have been given either before or after the passing of a genealogist. Because of them we are able to have a vast array of titles that are either no longer available or prohibitively expensive. And those people or their families know the collections are being used and appreciated by other people with the same interest in genealogical research.
We also have the only complete collection of The Ellsworth American available anywhere. This is an invaluable resource for people researching the Ellsworth area between 1855 and the time of the Ellsworth Fire in 1933 when local records were destroyed.
One of the microfilm machines in the genealogy section of the library.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget the people who do their research here and how generous they are with other researchers, usually total strangers who soon become friends as they work together to dig out a piece of information on an ancestor. I have even seen people working in that corner
on something not genealogy related, offer advice to genealogists working there just because they overhear the conversation, and perhaps know a
person, cemetery or work where the needed information might be found. There is something very special about that corner of the library.
Thank you, Charlene!