Instant Ideas and Collaboration
Our guest post on this month’s topic is by Penny Allen. Follow her on twitter at @cdnlocgen
Penny came to the UK in 2012 and has worked as a librarian in London in the heritage sector and has previously worked in public libraries in Canada particularly in a rural setting. A Canadian, she has experience doing her own family history research since the 1980s and providing family history services in libraries since 2004. She has been a member of the CILIP Local Studies Group for 4 years.
She will be joining in with our chat on Tuesday 6 December which will also be discussing the related field of local history. If you want to add your own questions to the Family and Local History agenda, it’s now available.
Quietly working at the information desk, a customer hesitantly approaches. “Excuse me, I don’t want to bother you, and this may seem like a silly question, but can you tell me how do I start my family history?” Or: “My great-grandfather fought in the First World War. Where is all of his service history?” And the best one: “Where is the book with all of my family’s history in it?”
Eyes wide, you frantically reach for the nearest print reference that explains everything, point by point about how to do genealogy research. “Here it is – the book that will explain all you ever need to know, from start to finish.” (Sorry my librarian colleagues, but that magical book just does not exist – however, see the Bibliography for help.)
Take a deep breath, and read on. Genealogists are of three camps, the absolute newbies who are thrilled by any suggestions you provide; the internet genealogists who say they can’t find anything on the ‘net; and seasoned genealogists who have been researching for years and are interested in your knowledge of the unique and local resources that they may have overlooked.
The best tools that you can gather for this very unique and specialized group of researchers are very basic. Using the skills you learned in Masters of Library Science Reference 101, public service skills are paramount. Positive body language is very important, use of lots of eye contact, a genuine response and eagerness to help. Personally, my goal is to make sure that the customer leaves with something – a print resource, a reference and most importantly, a positive experience. This is a very personal quest to the customer and often they will attempt to share their ancestry, branch by branch! But you may exclaim, “But I know nothing about genealogy!”
Here are some tried and true tips for genealogy resources. The best tools are the ‘research guides’ you can find on many family history society websites, National Archives, large County Council Library or Public Library websites. These I would consider a quick reference tool. Building up your knowledge of local resources, such as: maps, directories, BMDs or vital statistics and censuses will be a great help. Having a few basic core genealogy titles in your collections are also helpful to hand over to the researcher. Examples are: Easy Family History : The Beginner’s Guide to Starting Your Research by David Annal. Tracing Your Family History on the Internet : a guide for Family Historians by Chris Paton. The Family History Web Directory : the genealogical websites you can’t do without by Jonathan Scott.
In addition to the basics of Ref 101, here a few questions to ask your customer.
If you are keen to learn more about how to provide genealogy services in your library, here are some recommended official organizations:
Whether or not you are a genealogy enthusiast, using your tried and tested librarian skills you can find the resources to support local and family history enquiries.