I won't bore everyone with a list of things that I am not an expert on. With genealogy, there is always something to learn even when it is your specialty.
So my expertise? - public library research. Trained as a library technician at Sheridan College Oakville, I worked all my library career at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library (30+ years). I was a very happy person when local history and genealogy cataloguing became part of my many responsibilities and duties. It is doing that work that really sparked my own interest in genealogical research. I had my degree in history that I earned on a part-time basis as I worked full-time at the library.
I would like to share a couple of things that I have learned from both sides of the desk.
Be prepared when going to research.
- If you have never done genealogical research, perhaps a good place to start would be to borrow and read some basic how to books. There are good resources on the Internet too, but I like to get comfortable and read a book.
- If you are venturing into a new area of research, check to see what resources your library has on learning about that area.
- If you are travelling to your ancestors' home area, research what repositories are in the area -- libraries, archives, etc. What can you research from home so that you can make use of your time while you are away?
- Find out, if you can, what a repository has to offer before you go. Does it have any specialties? From the library's online catalog and the library's website you may get a good insight into what is available. The collection may be strong for the local area but have very little about other provinces/states or countries.
- If a community has a library and an archives - check what does each have to offer. You will want to make the best use of your time at each place. When are they open?
- Have a goal of what you would like to learn before you go.
- Take your needed material -- pencils, list of surnames, laptop, and a chart with key names and dates, etc.
- If you are not familiar with all the resources of a collection, plan on how you are going to word your request for help. Library staff do not have the time to hear your family's history. Be prepared for the "reference interview".
So what does the reference librarian need to know?
- Is there a particular resource you wish to consult?
- Time and place - What time period and for what locality? Not all libraries even with large collections will have everything and records may not exist for that time or place.
- Family name - perhaps they have a family history for that family.
Be open to suggestions from the staff concerning sources of information that are not listed in the catalogues, etc. Not everything is in the catalog or in an index.
If you have time, while you are at a library (or other repositories) and the collection is on open, public shelving, browse through the collection. You may never know what you may find.
I like to check other family histories. This is very important in an area where your family has stayed for awhile. [When I was cataloguing family histories, I would leaf through the family histories to gain familiarity with the collection to better answer questions. Sometimes, I was pleasantly surprised to find my own family connections in books where I had no known connection.]
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Although, not all reference staff will have a specialty in local history and genealogy, we love to answer questions and guide people to appropriate resources.
- Remember, the reference librarian can not do your research for you.
- Each piece of equipment has its own peculiarities. You may need a lesson.
When I worked on the reference desk, I loved helping people with their genealogical and local history questions. I would get very excited when someone came to the reference desk and said they wanted to work on their genealogical research.
The above are a few of my suggestions. Do you have any others to add that you have gained through your own experience on either side of the desk?