The Family History Rabbit Hole

When you boil it down to its essence, it seems to me that the experience of the pandemic has so much been about our families, and our relationships with our families--keeping our families safe, being cooped up with our families, being separated from our families, craving alone time, longing for togetherness, amplifying everything that makes being part of a family wonderful and/or terrible. So, it’s not terribly surprising that genealogy, already a super popular hobby, has only become more so this past year-and-a-half. Has this pandemic made you want to jump down the family history rabbit hole, to better understand who your family is, where they came from, and why they are the way they are? If so, we’ve got lots of resources to get you started!

Our flagship resource is Ancestry Library Edition (ALE), accessible to you for free with your library card number and PIN. Under normal circumstances you would need to come to the library to use ALE, but the Ancestry folks are allowing remote access at least until December 2021. ALE offers a wealth of resources from across the country and around the world, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to explore its treasures at home while wearing your comfy pants. 

Fold3 and Heritage Quest offer helpful supplements to Ancestry Library Edition (and are available to you at home in the comfort of your comfy pants no matter our pandemic status). Fold3 has a particular focus on military records, while Heritage Quest is rich in Census records and city directories, among other things. Both Fold3 and Heritage Quest also offer specialized collections of resources for exploring Native American and African-American genealogy. 

If you haven’t yet dipped your genealogist’s toe into digitized newspapers, you are in for a treat! Unlike using microfilm for research, which requires you to either have a target date in mind or to scroll endlessly hoping to chance on a needle-in-a-haystack, digitized newspapers are keyword-searchable--meaning that you can search for a name or an address and pull up results without needing to know a date. NewspaperArchive includes the Lawrence Journal-World in almost its entirety, which is fantastic if you are researching a person, place, or event in Lawrence. If your research is further afield, though, NewspaperArchive also includes newspapers from across the United States and as well as some international coverage. The Kansas Digital Newspapers Program offers nearly all Kansas newspapers published before 1923 in digital, keyword-searchable form. And Chronicling America, a project of the Library of Congress, features historic U.S. newspapers dating from 1777-1963.

Digital Douglas County History is a repository of local history resources that the library has been building together with our colleagues at the Watkins Museum. There you can find nearly 1,400 items--photographs, postcards, oral histories, exhibits, and other materials--that document and reflect the lives of our community’s residents. We’re especially excited about the recent addition of the La Yarda Oral History Project, which offers firsthand memories of Lawrence’s Mexican-American community--and especially the La Yarda neighborhood that was home to the families of railroad workers--from the early- to mid-20th century.  Folks digging into their family histories might also be interested in the publications of the Douglas County Genealogical Society as well as the record books from the Funk and Schubert Mortuaries. Another resource for genealogists investigating local roots is the Lawrence Cemetery Map, which helps researchers locate burial plots and identify dates of interment within the City’s cemeteries. 

Last but not least: The place to start with genealogy is with what you already know. What family history resources of your own would you like to preserve or share? LPL offers a suite of equipment that you can check out to help you digitize slides, photographs, and VHS and cassette tapes, as well as to record interviews with your loved ones. And if you’re not sure how to begin? We’re here to help! Book a Librarian for one-on-one research assistance.

--Melissa Fisher Isaacs is the Information Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.