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A genealogist’s best friend

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A genealogist ‘s best friend is a good librarian. And while many of us automatically head to larger libraries such as the Maine State Library when we think of researching, there are valuable resources for the family researchers in smaller, local libraries in the town where your ancestors lived. The guide to these treasures is the local librarian.

Local libraries will often have the same standard genealogical reference works, such as published transcribed vital records, you’ll find in larger libraries. But it’s also possible you’ll find collections of materials unique to that town or area which will hold the answers or offer clues to what you are seeking.

Many of these materials are unavailable elsewhere and unique to that particular library. These can include rare copies of defunct local newspapers, scrapbooks, diaries, letters, photo collections, area maps, and family genealogies that were prepared by residents and not distributed to other libraries. My own local library held a family genealogy which touched on one of my lines and I stumbled on it by searching the shelves one day when I was researching.

You might also find collections of local biographies which for lack of general interest are unique to that town and place. Many of these types of records won’t be on the shelves but tucked away in a storage area or have been transferred to a historical society.

Librarians are also living fonts of knowledge about their towns. If there’s an unofficial town historian or genealogist the librarian will know who it is and how you can contract them. Locally knowledgeable people can often save you a great deal of time and be familiar with sources you may not have realized exist. Librarians will also know about area historical societies and other potential resources.

Be warned that not every librarian is a genealogist so you will want to explain what family you are searching for and ask her to suggest what you might want to look at among the collection.

Before you go it’s always wise to check hours and if there is an online catalog. There probably won’t be but checking on the library’s website for anything that might help you will be a great time saver and alert you if something is “in storage.” If an item is marked “in storage” you should make arrangements ahead of time to be sure it will be available when you arrive and find out any restrictions regarding its use or copying.

You might also remember to check other area libraries in addition to the town where your family lived. Sometimes collections will end up in a different town because someone in the family moved taking their family records with them. Sometimes records will cover more than one community so that a collection of letters or diaries will be donated to the library in the town where the family last resided.

I urge you not to neglect local libraries or the knowledge of the librarians. As I said, they are a genealogist’s best friend.

Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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