Public Libraries–a resource that we as genealogists today take almost for granted, that is until the Covid-19 Pandemic changed genealogy dramatically–began with the Boston Public Library which opened officially in 1854.
That is the history in a nutshell. But, the rest of the story includes this important fact: the Boston set the pattern which ultimately most other libraries followed over the years. Funding comes from a special tax levy rather than a portion of the general fund of the city.
Almost from the beginning, the Boston added a genealogy room. And most public libraries. thus. have a genealogy collection or local history room with genealogy materials, family charts, and histories. This New England model included local families as well as important national figures.
We are all champing at the bit for access to the libraries and archives that have been locked down because of the Pandemic. Online records and digitized printed books are still too meager to satisfy the needs of genealogy and family history.
There is another consideration which many genealogists overlook–American libraries and archives often hold original sources you expect to find in the country of origin or photocopies of these records which you can search more easily and cost-effectively here than abroad.
Two examples of private libraries will suffice:
1) The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA has the original manuscripts of the great and noble Hastings family of England and Ireland. More than 50,000 manuscript items, covering 1101-1892. They cannot be searched in England—these are the original records. Registered readers can search them for you.
2) The Family History Library, in Salt Lake City UT, has more than 3 million rolls of microfilmed records. Including many original records for the Jews in Poland. These records were filmed behind the Iron Curtain and at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Consult Jewish Roots in Poland: Pages from the Past and Archival Memories. 446 pp. 1997. written by Miriam Weiner. Published by The Routes to Roots Foundation, Inc. and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. More than 5,000 surviving records are inventoried for 1,250 Jewish towns. This remarkable guide is available from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 260, Baltimore MD 21211. http://www.genealogical.com Consult also Jewish Records in the Family History Library Catalog. Volume 1: United States. 2000. written by Nancy Goodstein. An informative new guide. Available at the Family History Library, 35 N. West Temple, Salt Lake City UT 84150.
Microfilm and digital-camera imaging are underway in Europe by the Family History Library right now, reproducing the records of what used to be called the “eastern-bloc” countries. You don’t need to write for searches in these photocopied sources—you can search them yourself or with professional help, here. In America. These records are in the language they were originally recorded, which you may not read. Professional genealogists, who do read the language, can help you. These records will eventually be indexed online to simplify your search efforts—on your own computer wherever you reside.
A thorough search of online information available through both public and private libraries can tide you over until more genealogy resources become available–hopefully later this year (2021). Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS And don’t forget my own Genealogy Library Center, Inc. enriched by the collections of the Conner-Bishop Library compiled by Ruth Bishop–over 100,000 research items! Open by appointment to the public. Some limitations to access due to building renovations still ongoing.