Amy Coffin (author of the WeTree blog and owner of the Texas-shaped waffle avatar on Twitter) has generated a series of genealogy exercises / blog prompts entitled 52 Weeks To Better Genealogy. I thought I’d give Amy’s challenges a try. Her first one is:
Go to your local public library branch. Make a note of the genealogy books in the collection that may help you gain research knowledge. Don’t forget to check the shelves in both the non-fiction section and the reference section. If you do not already have a library card, take the time to get one. If you have a genealogy blog, write about what you find in your library’s genealogy collection.
There weren’t any patrons tonight during our shift at the Wilmette FHC, and the director gave me permission to take a brief field trip. So I headed over to the Wilmette Public Library (WPL) to check out their genealogy collection.
The first thing I noticed was that the WPL is undergoing some serious renovation right now. As a result, two of their most unique and useful genealogy resources — the local history room and the historical newspaper collection on microfilm — aren’t directly accessible at the moment. So alas, no photos of them. The librarian did offer to retrieve microfilms for me, though.
From what I’m told, the local history room contains a number of records that would be particularly useful for a patron trying to research their Wilmette ancestors, including Wilmette telephone books back to the early part of the twentieth century and vertical files with information about early Wilmette residents. I plan to check back in the Spring when the contents have settled into their new home.
After apologizing for the impact of the renovations, the helpful reference librarians printed out a spiffy-looking brochure for me called “Genealogy: Getting Started” and pointed me downstairs to the 929.1 books in their reference collection.
Here I found about four shelves worth of books including the two-volume Cyndi’s List compilation, the Handy Book, and Tom Kemp’s Vital Records Handbook. Several Illinois-specific census abstracts and military histories were also located here.
Main 929.1 Area
The more popular and modern titles were located on the other side of the library in the usual 929.1 area. Here I found an excellent selection of books for beginners and intermediates alike, including Google Your Family Tree, The Source, and 500 Brickwall Solutions, along with a sizeable group of ethnicity-specific books such as Tracing Your Irish Ancestors and the Avotnayu Guide To Jewish Genealogy. I was pleasantly surprised to see two volumes from Elizabeth Shown Mills: a hardly-touched copy of ProGen and and older version of Evidence!
Since we’re located in Cook County, Illinois just north of Chicago, it was nice to see that the WPL also has Finding Your Chicago Ancestors by Grace Dumelle, and Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research by Loretto Dennis Szucs.
In addition to Ancestry Library Version and Heritage Quest Online, the WPL also offers access to databases of local interest including ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1986). Particularly cool is the library’s index to Wilmette newspapers which is updated regularly. As I write this, the index contains 215,031 entries for the Wilmette Life spanning 18 Sep 1847 to 31 Dec 2009 and nearly 10,000 entries for Lake Shore News covering 1912 to 1923.
This was a fun challenge and I definitely learned some stuff about the WPL that I didn’t know before. Now when patrons visit our FHC and ask for something we don’t have, I’ll have a better feel for local alternatives to offer them. I also plan to go back soon to check out Google Your Family Tree and several other books that looked interesting.