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Revisiting the Research Library

Genealogical research is a whole new experience. If you have not visited a research center lately - or ever - you may be surprised at what you will find!


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I have recently been revisiting some research libraries in my area. Things have changed drastically from the days when the research librarian carried much of the local history around in her head and the rest was in a shoebox full of index cards. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I spent some time at the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society (TCGHS) Ehrlicher Research Center in Pekin, Illinois. The TCGHS is sponsoring their sixth annual bus trip to Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN, a hotbed for genealogical research. But the Ehrlicher Center could easily become a research destination itself!

I hadn't been there since the library expanded. Or maybe I should say it exploded! The collection is extensive and there is more help on hand than anyone can need! Their collection of family histories is one of the most impressive I have seen.

It is a vibrant center where past and present meet. On the afternoon I was there, one man in suttler garb was using a microfilm reader while another researcher was copying data onto her flash drive. People were exchanging e-mail addresses and comparing notes. I happened to be looking at a translation of German newspapers from Adams County, IL, and using an external keyboard with my Palm Pilot to take notes. Someone from out-of-state was looking up information in old phonebooks.

While there is a card catalog on site, I am disappointed it is not online. It would have saved time to have done some research ahead of time. But the Ehrlicher Center remains one of my favorite research sites.

Later in the week, I was planning a visit to the Peoria Public Library in Peoria, IL. Luckily, as a public library, their records are online. They are members of the Resource Sharing Alliance, and even their genealogy room records are searchable via the internet. One thing I especially appreciate about the Resource Sharing Alliance is when looking for a resource that is not in the reference section, the database reports whether the item is checked out or not.

I printed out four pages of call numbers from their online search tools and took them with me. I sometimes take a digital camera with me and photograph notes for personal research instead of spending the money and killing trees by making copies. Either way, I end up retyping the information.

The Peoria Public Library is a destination for Genealogy Trails, a group for which I volunteer. Volunteers make an annual migration to Peoria or Springfield, IL, in May to do research, armed with notes, digital cameras, and laptops.

If you are considering a trip to a research library, spend some time at When a source comes up, you'll see a box that says "Enter Location Information." Type in your zip code and Worldcat will calculate the distance to each library holding the source you need. Family histories, including self-published works, are listed as part of a library's collection.

Libraries must be members to be included in Worldcat. Some historical society libraries are included. The McLean County Historical Society Library's collection in Bloomington, IL is also a member. Best of all, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is included. This is a major research center for Illinois genealogy.

The Allen County Public Library is also a member of Worldcat. So, if you're going to take a trip, look up your sources before you get there. You'll step off the bus ready to start reading.

Another resource, Google Books has a large number of out-of-print resources online, many with the full-text. When you use the Google Books search tool, click on "Full Preview Only" to select only the books that have full text available online.

So, as the daffodils are popping their heads up this spring, start looking up those resources online. Summertime genealogical research trips are just around the corner!

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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