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Did you know there is a primetime show that features the thrills of genealogy research? Mostly famous people are aided in their hunt for ancestor information by seasoned research professionals...librarians!
Who Do You Think You Are? begins with that week's celebrity pecking away at the Ancestry.com. It is really exciting to find out Rita Wilson actually can type, but good keyboarding skills doesn't make great television. It's time for Field Research!
The intrepid celebrities head off to such exciting destinations as The State Library of Louisiana or the Cookeville History Museum. And their guides are of course librarians--armed with glasses, white gloves (for old documents), and knowledge of arcane filing systems. In one episode the librarian has to thread a microfilm machine; this is becoming a lost skill, much like using a rotary phone. The camera follows all the action, including the librarian's instructions on how to rewind.
Some moments are more touching than others. Jerome Bettis discovers the bill of sale for his great great-great-grandfather in an archive filled with handwritten documents such as wills, bills of sale, and all those other legal documents institutions like slavery required. He also finds out that his great grandfather sued a train company and won a hefty judgment against them. The librarian in this particular scene just beams at him, totally pleased with his awed reaction. Yeah, we have hearts.
My absolutely favorite aspect to the show, however, is how the celebrity types a few phrases into the catalogue and the search gives back useful results on the first try! And then the librarian disappears around a corner and comes back immediately with all the items in her arms! It's magical.
Genealogical Research You Can do Without a Television Show
Even if you aren't a semi-famous person, you can still do ancestry research at your local library. You just don't get a camera crew and magically appearing documents neatly tagged at the right locations, but I can assure you that real life librarians look exactly like the librarians on the show.
Our library system has two useful websites for genealogy research. Ancestry can only be used inside the library. Heritage Questis available to use at home or in the library. One of the niftier achieves on Heritage Quest is the collection of family history books, such as The Roosevelt Genealogy, 1649-1902 or the less famous The A. M. Crary Memoirs and Memoranda, published in 1915.
There's also a San Mateo County Genealogical Society. Their blog is filled with excellent searching advice. Apparently the 1940 US Census will be available online as of April 2nd.
We're also lucky to still have a National Archives in the Bay Area. Although the website says National Archives in San Francisco, the building is actually located in my hometown, San Bruno. The archives are open to the public, but some services are only available by appointment so check ahead. Their website has plenty of good information.
Happy ancestor hunting!
CynthiaR's dream job in fourth grade was to interview celebrities for People Magazine, especially old ones like Laurence Olivier and Cary Grant.