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Saturday, April 16, 2016

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National Library Week 2016 Genealogy Discovery!


National Library Week 2016 found us on a quest to discover more about the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection  at the Woodson Regional Library (Carter G. Woodson Regional Library).  This collection is the largest African American history and literature collection in the Midwest. Historical records document the experience of African Americans particularly from Chicago.

We figured since Ellis' ancestors migrated from the South to Chicago, this would be a great place to look for resources. Libraries are underused resources. You would not believe how many clues I have discovered over the years because I know how to research the local history collections in the library. Many are making collections and information about existing resources available online.

I love it when I find a library's chat room on their website. It is great to talk to a real person in real time. Even if the library website has little information, they may have holdings in their back rooms stored far away from the patron's view. It is always worth it to check out the library where your ancestor lived. If you do not find a record, you may just find a volunteer there who knows the neighborhood and family stories of people who resided in the area long ago.

Of course, we never travel to a place without first checking out their website to see what collections might be of use to our research.  We spent some time learning how to navigate the Woodson Regional Library website. That was not easy, but we stumbled upon archival collections that are accessible online:

We discovered that we could search the Chicago Defender newspaper online at the library.  We only knew of its availability on microfilm further away at the Evanston Public Library. That made a vist to Woodson Regional Library more than worth it. We could search for a few family members and determine if we needed private access to the collection. This is the 111th year anniversary of the Chicago Defender.  I remember that it was a very popular newspaper among family members.
We were excited to visit. This is in the Evergreen Park area of Chicago, and it has undergone a great deal of development since I have been there last. I was almost tempted to go shopping! The Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection is a separate addition of the Woodson Regional Library located on 9525 S. Halsted in Chicago.  

We stopped at the front desk to inquire about funeral programs for Lawrence and Louise Johnson, but they did not have them in their collection.  Next, we went to the first available computer to check out the Chicago Defender Historical Archive which is searchable on site. 

This is a screenshot of the search field for the Chicago Defender Historical Archive:

Incredibly, when we searched for Archie McClure, the obituary of his one year old daughter who died at one year of age appeared on the screen. The database had the option to e-mail the .pdf version of the obituary so we did not even have to fool around with getting our money transferred to an electronic card to print.

We stood there shaking our heads. We did not previously have the year of Bunny's birth or her death to search for her death record. We only knew she existed. In one year's time, this infant was baptized, made friends and attended the Bud Billiken Parade. We will not post the image to the obituary here, but it contains her full name, birth, death, name of godmother, address, pastor, church, parents' names and nicknames in three short paragraphs. Her obituary has more information that some adults that we have seen.

After, we decided that we want to secure future access to the Chicago Defender Historic Archive, I could not resist searching to see if it contained any articles on my South Carolina ancestors just for fun. You will not believe what I found! I will share in the next post.

All I can say is, I have an overwhelming appreciation for libraries and the people who serve there day in and day out providing assistance and resources.

Happy National Library Week 2016!


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