Last month we discussed ways to approach genealogy research at Mid Shore historical societies, and this month we decided to highlight the wealth of historic resources at area libraries. (Cover painting, “Apple and a Book,” by Bradford Ross)
Talbot County Free Library, Easton Branch
The Maryland Room Collection
While today’s library offers so much more than just books, Easton’s library has research materials to make any historian and genealogist’s dreams come true. The real gem may be the effervescent Becky Riti, Maryland Room Librarian. There is no question – she was born to be “the good steward of it all.” As Becky simply states, “I’m meant to be here.” What a wonderful resource for those genealogy buffs looking for ancestors here. Becky lights about the room, her hands finding maps, folders, books and binders within seconds. She is a marvel.
Becky has the following suggestions for those just beginning a search for family from long ago.
Census: “The Census is a big help for people just starting out on their genealogy search,” Becky says. She gets excited about April 1, since that’s when the U.S. National Archives releases the country’s 1950 Census records. Fun fact: The government does not release personal information until 72 years after it was collected for the census.
Be prepared: Initially, gather as many details about your family as possible. It’s a huge help for Becky and others working in libraries if you can gather such information as property records, names of farms, dates and family names, etc. “People really develop a passion for finding their family. They come in and get so excited.” Be prepared that sometimes Becky and others can only develop theories, which can be a cornerstone for a breakthrough in research. Based on what information the family can gather could be enough to open a lead into new findings.
Be patient: As Becky says, one thing can lead to another. A visit to the Maryland Room is limited to 1.5 hours at a time, but it feels like seconds. There is so much here. “You can get drawn down the rabbit hole,” Becky says with a smile behind her mask.
Make an appointment: Visitors are limited and it’s best to send an email to Becky at email@example.com. Make an appointment for a visit and provide details about a particular search. Becky can pinpoint some references prior to a visit.
Dorchester County Public Library, Cambridge Branch
The M. Virginia Webb Memorial Maryland Room Collection
Genealogy has become one of the most popular hobbies in America. Technology has made it accessible to all. The pandemic created the perfect opportunity to begin a quest to learn about a family’s lineage. Another great resource that specializes in finding our Eastern Shore ancestors is the Maryland Room in Cambridge. While many libraries provide access to online databases for free with a library card, including Ancestry, Genealogy Connect, and HeritageQuest, this collection is intended to provide the public with access to a number of resources pertaining to the history and culture of Dorchester County and its surrounding areas, while also serving as a repository for the preservation of some primary and secondary sources.
There are a number of highlights within the collection, explains Maggie Yankovich, Head of Information. In addition to scores of books on Maryland and Dorchester history, other jewels include family histories, year books, Michie’s Annotated Code of Maryland, microfilm dating back as far as the 1840s from Cambridge newspapers, and scrapbooks dating to the 1960s recorded by the librarians themselves.
Many items in the collection are truly unique resources and members of the information team think of themselves as stewards of history. “We are very proud of our Maryland Room. Even though we don’t have the largest collection on the Shore, we work together as a team to maintain it and share its resources with the community,” said Maggie, who considers herself an “accidental librarian.”
In the beginning, Maggie explained that she was intimated by working in the Maryland Room, but her opinion quickly evolved. “What I have found is that doing research for someone is very rewarding when ‘Bam!’ – you’re able to find that something. It’s the best feeling in the world. While it can be frustrating at times, the journey is really powerful and worth it.”
To request assistance with Dorchester County research, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Queen Anne’s County Library, Kent Island Branch
Julie Ranelli, Branch Manager, provided the following details about various resources. “Online genealogy resources are available at www.qaclibrary.org/databases in the Genealogy and Local History section. HeritageQuest is a good starting point and can be accessed from home. We also have a library edition of Ancestry.com, which is only available within the library building (authenticated by IP address).”
The Kent Island local history collection, along with materials housed in the new history room, are maintained by members of the Kent Island Heritage Society, and includes indexes of local marriages, deaths, and burial sites. The library also has a collection of photographs, clippings, and documents relating to places and people, especially files for some of the early families to settle Kent Island, historical maps, local nonfiction literature, and vertical files of newspapers, clippings and documents. Kent Island’s local history collection is currently packed in storage while the building is expanded. For more information, visit qaclibrary.org.
Queen Anne’s County Public Library, Centreville Branch
Andrea Boothby Rice, Public Service Librarian, provided a rundown of what the library offers to genealogy buffs. The Centreville Local History Collection includes indexes of local marriages, deaths, wills, burial sites, historical site surveys, a collection of photographs from the Princess Anne of England visit in 1977, some historical maps, robust local nonfiction literature sections, and vertical files of newspapers clippings and documents that are divided into Queen Anne’s and then the rest of Maryland.
The Centreville branch also currently offers digitization of VHS, VHS-C, Mini DV, Video8, Hi8, and Digital 8 formats for free through its Memory Center at www.qaclibrary.org/the-memory-center. The library is hosting an oral history project called Living and Dying with COVID-19: The Maryland Stories. People are invited to come and use recording equipment to tell how COVID-19 has impacted their lives. These recordings will then become part of the collections of Digital Maryland and the Maryland State Archives. For more information, visit qaclibrary.org.
Caroline County Public Library, Denton Branch
According to Debby Bennett, Executive Director, “We receive a steady stream of genealogy requests.” Regarding a librarian’s job, Debby says, “This [genealogy] is the fun stuff. Learning about area families makes history come alive.”
Kaitlin Thornberry and Allison Todd are the “go to” library contacts for genealogy questions at the Denton branch. They get into the meat and bones of a person’s genealogy quest. In “sleuth” mode, they use local resources and reference materials that can reveal lesser-known facts about a family that other online sources may not have access to.
Research questions are varied: those who are interested in tracing back their lineage to the Revolutionary War or learning how an African American ancestor gained his or her freedom. Are they part detective? “Yes!” Allison and Kaitlin chorus in unison. “It’s great to have that ‘A-ha!’ moment when you’re able to find what you’ve been looking for,” admits Kaitlin, circulation and reference manager. “It’s very rewarding,” Allison agrees.
There are several online resources within the library and Kaitlin and Allison provide guidance the public needs to be able to use them effectively. And they can point a person to other resources that may be helpful as well.
The Denton Journal was in existence from 1870 to 1965 and it has been digitized. It’s a treasure trove of information, admits Allison, reference librarian. All you need is a Caroline County library card and an interest in finding long lost relatives.
Another genealogical resource is called HeritageQuest, and it is available through a list of databases at www.carolib.org/databases-a-z. Allison explains, “It is a great resource that customers can use from home with a Caroline County Public Library card. It contains census information, city directories, military records, and more. While it may not provide access to as many records and sources as Ancestry does, it does enable users to discover valuable genealogical information that can be accessed from home.”
Kent County Public Library, Chestertown Branch
The Chestertown branch offers several online resources for genealogy help, including Ancestry.com, Genealogy Connect, and HeritageQuest Plus as well as a small Maryland Reference section that features such things as historic immigrant records and Civil War soldier lists, to name a few. People may call 410-778-3636 and ask for a reference librarian with further questions.