Ryan Taylor Tired of travelling to a library? Move there
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By Ryan Taylor

Most genealogists have a dream. They'd like the chance for a relaxed and unhurried research trip.

Having as much time as you'd like in the Library and Archives in Ottawa, in Salt Lake City or Dublin, that's worth dreaming about.

Helen McLaughlin decided to live her dream.

Widowed and retired, she lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She could not afford the short and pricey trips to genealogical conferences. She decided that an alternative was to move. Her children supported her decision.

She chose to spend a year in Fort Wayne, Indiana, home of the Allen County Public Library. ACPL is the second-largest genealogical library in North America.

Helen found an apartment within walking distance of the library. She then began exploring the large collection. "At first, I came to the library every day," she says, "But there were too many interruptions, like having to clean the house."

She worked a regular day, arriving in the morning and going home at five. Asked how she amused herself at other times, she says, "I had the church and the community center, but when I get home after a day at the library, I'm tired."

One advantage to having time to spare is that she could explore the collection thoroughly. "It took a while to get the hang of it," she says, "I was overwhelmed at first." She had not used microfilms or CD-ROMs before, and was especially glad to find the supplementary state censuses, which are taken in off-years in the United States. The federal census was in 1880, for example, and a state census would be in 1885.

She offered to look up things for friends as well. "One of them had pioneer ancestors in Fort Wayne," she found, and that led her to use the local newspapers and indexes. After that experience she found she could obtain other newspapers on interlibrary loan. This was another library service she had not known about before. As a local resident, she qualified for everything the library could offer.

She did not confine herself to the historical collections, either. She found the public computer room useful for typing up the results of her research. She also used the circulating videos.

I met her at the return slot in the library door before seven one morning, long before the library opened. She popped some videos through the slot. I asked what got her up so early, and she said she liked to have a walk. The streets were almost empty, and the sun was shining, a fine time for some exercise before a busy day.

The professional genealogists who use the library's facilities for their clients daily made her welcome. They invite her to join them for lunch and the staff call her by name.

Her year at the library will end in October, when she moves to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to be near her children. "There's a university library there I might use," she muses.

Meantime, her last weeks at ACPL will be busy with more research, for herself and her friends. "I thought I better do it while I still could," she says, "It's been a privilege to be here." Meeting a devoted library user like Helen is a privilege for the staff, too.

And then I began thinking that there are probably little apartments for rent near the Devon Record Office in England...


Congratulations to Oxford County Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this week. All the OGS branches exist through the work and goodwill of volunteers, and Oxford is no exception. Best wishes to the branch for even more growth and accomplishment in the next 25.

Posted September 14, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

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