Digging Up the Past … Without A Shovel

Digging Up the Past … Without A Shovel

02-27Behind the StacksBy Rachel Hamburg

Rolled about a broomstick and jammed beneath a bed, a map of the old Prairie Grove-Fayetteville railroad waited to be discovered by a woman going through her late father’s possessions. She eventually donated it to the Fayetteville Public Library, where it found refuge in the Grace Keith Genealogical Collection. Among such diverse items as Judge Appleby’s table (the first piece of furniture owned by the library) to the ancient family histories of Baile of North of Ireland, the map found a worthy home. The Genealogical Collection offers a unique variety of resources, and despite its unassuming appearance, maintains a treasure trove of historical gems.

Snugly situated between the Teen Computer Lab and Adult Fiction on the second floor, the collection flows from American military records to Native American reservation records. You can even browse a small section on foreign immigration, wherein resides the hefty “Book of Crests,” a tool that could solidify your claims to royalty. Though the collection features genealogical books of all 50 states, it focuses on Southern demographics, like census, land, and marriage records. Records are separated by state and time period, while Arkansas records further divide according to county for easier research on local history. The collection also boasts the Washington County Historical Society’s “Flashback” series, an historical reference tool of Washington County published every quarter.

Named after the librarian who invented the color-code system in 1977, Grace Keith Genealogical Collection’s print resources are arranged for easy browsing. The color-code system classifies different types of historical records according to color. For example, every court record is indicated by a red dot on the item’s spine while every land-related deed is indicated with a yellow dot. You can find bookmarked-shaped guides to the color code at the Reference Desk. Although other libraries quickly adopted the system, it first appeared at the Fayetteville Public Library according to Fayetteville Public Genealogical Librarian Mickey Clements.

Clements, a volunteer with the Genealogical Collection until getting hired in 2000, mentions that one of the more attractive parts of the collection are the plat books and maps. The collection contains the original 1894 and 1908 plat books of Fayetteville, as well as a variety of local railroad and land plot maps. “Sometimes when a family settled in a state,” Clements says, “the county changed but the family was in the same home. Two different children in a family could have been born in different counties in the same house.” When children come to see the genealogical section, they have the most fun with maps, according to Clements, because they can see how places have changed.

However, for faster, easier research, more and more of the collection is becoming available online. On the Fayetteville Public Library website under the Research tab, you can find the Genealogy webpage, from where you can access genealogical databases containing local obituary, land, marriage, and school records. With a library card, you can also get free access to HeritageQuest Online, a database of census records, family histories, Revolutionary War records, and, notably, Freedman’s Bank records of African American history. Any library computer can also access Ancestry.com, one of the world’s largest and most popular genealogical databases. Drop by the Reference Desk for a list of “Our Favorite Genealogy Websites” to find other online resources. These resources, as well as many others, are also available on microfilm to anyone with a library card. The microfilm collection contains marriage and Civil War pension records, as well as all Arkansas census records from 1820-1940. Moreover, it includes all Northwest Arkansas newspapers, including The Arkansian which dates from 1859 to the current Northwest Arkansas Times and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Microfilms reside in black vertical files along the wall behind the Reference Desk and can be examined on any of the four microfilm viewers. Feel free to ask a reference librarian for assistance in loading and operating the viewers.

Additionally, you can fill out a Request for Research Form online or at the library for assistance in any genealogically-related inquiries. The library charges $15/hr. for research, and librarians usually spend about an hour on requested research. For face-to-face collaboration, Clements can be found at the Reference Desk Monday-Saturday from 9-1 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.

Through genealogical research, you can resurrect past lives and reveal ancient secrets. So whether tracing your great-grandmother back to the Old Country or simply locating a bygone railroad, the Grace Keith Genealogical Collection can direct you down the right path.

Visit the library online at www.faylib.org.


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