You know, in these modern times genealogy as a hobby is easy. You have the census on-line through DCPL’s reference databases which contain Ancestry and Heritage Quest, both keyword searchable. No more trips on the odd Friday off to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Southeastern branch. Thanks to Google Books and Heritage Quest you’ve got access to digitized county histories, most of which did not have indexes but are now keyword searchable. Many counties now have their historical records on-line so the six to eight week ordeal of getting a death certificate is a thing of the past. As a hobby genealogy is now cheaper, quicker and a lot of it can be done from home.
So much can now be done from the comfort of an easy chair, a Wi-Fi equipped laptop balanced on your knees and a beverage of choice at your elbow, but there is still nothing as thrilling as being there. When your fifth great-grandfather writes from 1869 that his sister married a man named Erp, sometimes it takes driving into Monmouth, Illinois, your car filled with the heavy, golden light of a late afternoon autumn sun, for you to suddenly go, “Oh, snap! Grandpa couldn’t spell!” because of course Monmouth, Illinois is the birthplace of Wyatt Earp. Yep, they have a great big sign right inside the city limits proclaiming it. This puts a whole new spin on your research because you are suddenly not tracking down a faceless person who lived and died in upstate Illinois but someone whose sister married Wyatt Earp’s uncle. You now know you are tied to a piece of Western mythology. You are so overcome with this revelation you have to go sit in a diner, drinking coffee and eating very good butterscotch pie, wishing that you had paid more attention to Kurt Russell instead of Val Kilmer in Tombstone. Because you are smart as well as friendly, you’ll talk to the folks around you and they will introduce you to one of the Earp descendants, who just happens to be eating butterscotch pie with his grandson. He will offer to send you scans of letters from your ancestor to his that the family has been keeping for over a hundred years, and then he will draw you a map to the private cemetery where your folks, and his, are buried.
So here’s my advice. Use the books we have (929.1072 on the library shelves) to learn how to set up your record keeping and get started. Use the DCPL databases to begin researching—Heritage Quest is available from home but due to licensing restrictions you have to be in the library to use Ancestry. Do as much work as you can from the comfort of your armchair but make the time to visit the right courthouse, town or cemetery. It’s the only way the facts become stories, and the whole point of genealogy is the stories.