If you build it. . .

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks:
Week 5: Some ways you could interpret his theme include: an ancestor that you discovered while researching at the library; an ancestor who was a librarian or an author; an ancestor who had a large book collection; an ancestor who you picture being in a library; or maybe a relative who took you to the library.

Until recent years, I have thought of a library as a place to go. However, since steeping myself in genealogy, I have come to think of a library as something that comes to me. So, I have built my own—online and in my office.

There are many books that may no longer be shelved in the libraries I go to, or may elude me, buried deep in the recesses of historical society libraries that I visit. Not to mention that, even if these books did not successfully dodge me, I may want them at my fingertips for future reference, rather than traveling back and forth between libraries to use them. 

My online library is on Google books. I have been using the  
The first book I downloaded to my Google library.

Google search engine for more than 20 years. Over the years, I just sort of fell into the various extensions of it. A genealogical search on Google one day dropped me into Google books. The top suggestion to answer my question was a history of the area where some of my Irish ancestors first settled when they came to the United States. I noticed that the book was available, free, to read online, so I downloaded it. Not only did the book help me become familiar with the place and time my ancestors lived, it also listed some by name. The details about them gave me a sense about their contributions to their community.

Since then I have downloaded many books on "My Library" at Google. They are not only about the places and times my ancestors lived. I've learned about the industries where they worked, their churches, their military service and have even discovered words and phrases they may have used that are no longer commonly, i.e. "He's a swell guy" or "Look at the gams on her." The details these books provide about place, politics, people and so much more have proved invaluable to me to tell a narrative story about my ancestors—not just one filled with birth, death and marriage dates.

I also have a non-virtual library in my home office for the same reason I have a virtual one online—convenience. These books may require me to visit them again and again. Re-reading the same passage from a book often looks different the second time around. I'm lucky to still live in or near the region where many of my ancestors settled and lived out their lives. As a result, when I visit Half-Price Books or other used book stores in my area, I find books that are pertinent to my research. The same holds true for books I find at thrift stores. There can be a treasure trove of books about the region that people donate when they're done with them. And there may be some self-published ones that don't show up on Amazon or eBay.

One of my best finds was at a Goodwill. The town where many of my relatives lived experienced a devastating tornado in 1899. In 1999, someone self-published a well-researched book recounting the tornado. It included names of all who died and were injured, as well oral accounts of survivors kept in historical archives of the area.

And, by the way, don't discount the value of what you may find on Amazon or eBay. There may be publications or artifacts pertinent to your family history. 

All I know, is that since I began building my own libraries, the books, magazines and other printed material have kept on coming. Think about building your own library. I believe, "If you build it, they will come."


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