Unlocking your past with libraries

“We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.” Liam Callanan.

                As humans we seek answers. We want to know how we got here. Who made me? Sometimes, that’s a hard question to answer. My question was; Who were my great grandparents? I knew nothing about them except for their names. What color hair and eyes did they have? What did they do for a living? How many children did they have? How many brothers and sisters did they have? Where did they live? Who were their parents? I had so many questions, so I began researching my family tree on Ancestry.com.

                Two great grandparents soon became four great-great grandparents. Four great-great grandparents grew to eight great-great-great grandparents. My parents and grandparents were amazed to see all these forefathers that had essentially created them. I began finding photos of ancestors that were passed down through several generations. These forgotten people were no longer forgotten.

My passion for genealogy was growing. I would sit for sometimes eight hours a day looking at census, birth and death records. I would search for their grave sites on Findagrave.com. I began making books with print outs of each thing I was finding. Sons of the Revolution applications, Civil War muster rolls, WWI and WWII cards, even tracts of land that my ancestors had once owned.

Ancestry.com could only give me so much information. It couldn’t give me what life was like in those times and areas in which my ancestors lived. Google couldn’t offer me those answers either. So, I had to look elsewhere. Where could I find more clues? Maybe the library I thought…

Sitting on a shelf at Martin Library in York, Pennsylvania is a little green book. It is overlooked every day by patrons that are coming and going. Some of them probably do not know the significance of this book and how it ties into their lives. It is called The Flowering of the Codorus Palatinate by Armand Gladfelter. I discovered this gem over ten years ago while searching for local history books.

On page 130 there is a photo of a house labeled as the Potato Town School House. My great aunt and uncle live next door to this house, but I never knew the significance. Written in the paragraph on the next page it says this house belonged to Martin Berkheimer, my great grandfather! It also says it’s the only log school house still standing in the township. The little house was erected as a Sunday School for the potato picking families that lived nearby.

Our library has an abundance of local history books that hold valuable information for York natives. Many of these books have family tree’s listed in them that can aid your research. The descendants of Christian Lau by Michael W. Lau is a great example. I’ve found that some of my best clues to finding someone isn’t always online, it’s written in a history book.

Go to your local library and see what’s on the shelf. Check the other libraries in your county to see what they have. Each library has something different. Be sure to stop at the Information Services desks and ask what reference books are available for in-house use. Maybe your family is from another county. Research a library close to where your ancestors lived and make a day trip to check out the local history section.

Happy researching!