If you did not read Genealogy 101 in the January 1991 issue of TCLR, don't go any further. The professor cannot waive any prerequisites because there are no shortcuts when it comes to family history—nèe Genealogy. All shortcuts have been tried over and over again and have been a great source of frustration to all dedicated family historians. It doubles the work and not the pleasure. In Monopoly terms, "Do not pass GO! Return to Jail," or some sort of similar admonition.
A year ago you were left at the door of the library, having done all your homework in the warm confines of your living room until now. Remember your first day of school? Pretty scary, right? Relax, because the library is a friendly place where you can chew gum, daydream, sleep, and not worry about 'pop' quizzes or final grades. And the Librarians are better looking and friendlier than any first-grade teacher that you had to face.
What is in the library that will help you fill the blanks in your family tree? All libraries have genealogical material, with some having more than others. In the Finger Lakes region of New York, you will be hard pressed to find a larger or better genealogy department than at Steele Memorial Library in Elmira. We will try to cover some of the more important collections of data to be found.
Census Records: Last year you were contacted by a census taker who asked a lot of questions about you and your family. Uncle Sam has been doing this every ten years for 200 years. If your Mom and Dad struck out on knowing too much about their grandparents, the census record for 1880 or before could very easily fill in the missing info on them as well as Uncle Phineas and Aunt Lavina. Microfilm copies of all the censuses from 1790 to 1880 for all the states in the USA plus the NY and PA census for 1900 and 1910 are available at Steele. And soon to be available, 1920 for NY and PA. Be sure to tell the truth on the next census in 2000 because some family historian will be reading what you said fifty or one hundred years from now.
Newspapers: The dark and dusty newspaper morgue is almost not more than a memory these days. Most newspapers have been filmed and placed in libraries for our use. What is in them that would be worth searching for? Obituaries of deceased relatives are loaded with genealogical data—parents, brothers, sisters, children and where these relatives were living at the time of this relative's death. Birth announcements tie down the specific birth dates. Wedding announcements usually give you the in-law names as well as the date and place. News articles about Uncle Ned's invention or Aunt Ida's violin recital. Family history is more than just the dates.
A word of caution about newspapers. Other than the New York Times, very few newspapers are indexed. If you have been told that Uncle Ira died in 1971, (there were 365 papers published that year) better get the month at least.
Reference Books on Genealogy: These cover a great deal of territory from "How to" guides thru family histories. Even if you have followed closely all the guidance in these articles and the advice of countless friends and relatives, at least a perusal of the published guides could be of great help. Family histories can be a good source of allied lines; what was the maiden name of Uncle Harry's wife? You might get lucky and find a genealogy of your family but the odds against that are high. County history books can give you a look at the part of the world your great grandparents inhabited as well as the fact that he was an Overseer of the Poor in 1881. If your relatives immigrated from Europe, the books on immigration might lead you to where they lived, when they came to America, and on what vessel.
Periodicals: Almost every county in the United States has a genealogical or historical society. Almost all of them publish a quarterly newsletter or magazine that is loaded with genealogical information. Locally, Twin Tiers Genealogical Society which covers this area of New York and Pennsylvania publishes a quarterly magazine called Gemini. It is an outstanding source of data on people of this area.
The above is a very brief outline of the material available in libraries. Ask the Librarian or the friendly Volunteer to show you where it all is and how to use it. someone once said "there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers." So ask the question and only hope you don't get a stupid answer.
As you dig deeper and deeper into your family background, keep in mind some of these laws of genealogy:*
1.Your great, great grandfather's obituary states that he died, leaving no issue of record.
2.Copies of old newspapers have holes which occur only on last names.
3.The 37 volume, sixteen-thousand-page history of your county is not indexed.
4. The critical link in your family tree is named "Smith."
© 1992, Elwyn R. Van Etten
*Published in Genealogy Digest, 1983, Gibbs Publishing Co.