Searching for your Family 101
How are you? I'm just getting used to the new fall hours. It can take a bit of readjusting at times. But the longer hours are much easier on people's schedules so it is all to the good. I do try to cover all the bases, but as I am only allotted 20 hours it can be difficult at times. But we do our best.
I just wanted to announce that if you happen to find an ad for Passport Holyoke in the local papers, bring it in to the History Room(if this promotion ends I will be sure to let you know)to get a $1 off photocopying. This means if you bring the Passport Holyoke ad into the History Room you may get a free ride for copying! Depending on how many obituaries you have to search that can be a very big help.
This point has of course swung my brain off on another tangent. The froggies in all their glory will have to wait. Instead, I give you,Searching for your family 101
The most important thing to remember is that genealogical research takes time. Many of my patrons have been filling in the details of their family's' histories for years and have binders full of information the size of New York phone book. But the wonderful thing about research is that, like a treasure map, every step can bring you closer to another piece of information. Obituaries of one family member may have the names of others, which can lead you to still more information.
Information can be found in libraries, civic offices, on the internet and even around your own kitchen table. I cannot stress the importance of talking to your family members about their lives. You can get the dates of important life experiences; you can get certificates, and articles; documents showing when your ancestor arrived from the old country; and maybe, if you are lucky, actual pictures of their homes, but you can't get the stories. Please talk to your families. And when you do, consider donating their memoirs to your local libraries and historical societies, because even if your family members believe that they did not live important and interesting lives, this is not true at all. As I have mentioned before, it is oral histories and scrapbooks, and journals that bring history alive!
Really, the first step in any genealogists treasure hunt is talking to your family members. This is important for the aforementioned reasons, but you need to establish a few key points before attempting to find information. If you have at least one birth, death or marriage date, you can begin your journey. If you do not have any of these, I would suggest getting in touch with your city or town clerk to get copies of those all-important civic records. You can also contact churches, as they have important records as well. And, if you have access to Ancestory.com or Heritage Quest these can be very useful. But at times these can be difficult as the programs have trouble interpreting the handwriting of census collectors.
The History Room has several sources that would help you on your quest for family information.
First off, we have the Transcript Telegram. This spans from 1850-1993. It is a great source for obituaries, birth notices, and marriage notices. However, it is really recommended that you have an exact date, down to at least the month. The History Room staff requires that you have a month and year for searches to be done for out of town patrons.
We also have City Directories from 1869-1991. These list the name, occupation and address of every working person in Holyoke. However, by the 1950s, the directories started listing unemployed spouses and dependent children. Earlier directories included lists of deaths, births and marriages, however this practice stopped fairly early on. However, later directories do list death dates. Another useful feature is the collection of business ads and lists of civic and social organizations.
For those seeking for records of people who did not work, or small children, we have the Hampden County Census from 1880-1920 on microfilm (with the exception of 1890. The entire 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire in the 1920s, a sad event that has left us devoid of a great portion of our history.) We also have access to Ancestory.com, which has records of the census to 1930. The Census is recorded every 10 years and includes information on every person living in a household. One can find out the nationality, occupation, age and other useful facts from this record. But be warned, this group of documents is a) hard to read as they were hand-written and b)Organized by Ward so you must know where your ancestors lived or be prepared to search for hours. This is where the City Directory comes in handy. These volumes also include the boundaries for wards.
We also have local files and scrapbooks of information on prominent Holyoke citizens. There are also a selection of published genealogies and bound genealogies collected by family members.
For those interested in researching their houses, we have a group of binders including information sheets on various historical properties throughout the city of Holyoke. The City Directories are also a great way of judging when a property was built as one need only follow the owners back through the volumes until they finally reach the first occupant.
For those properties built before 1915, The Richards Fire Insurance Map is a great resource as it would allow one to find out if a) a property was already built by 1911, and b) would provide the name of the first owner. 1915 was the first date that the City Directories listed occupants by their address.
We also have a collection of photographs of residences from the 1880s and 1890s which were taken by the itinerant photographer Milan Warner. At times it is very interesting to see what your neighborhood looked like originally.
So I hope that this provides you with a starting point for your genealogists quest. I am almost certain that sources such as these can be found in your local library or historical society, so be sure to contact them.