Week 14: Check it Out

April Theme: Check it out

I’m now behind on this 52 week challenge, so I’m hurrying to catch up. Last week’s prompt was “Check it out.” That brings to mind lots of ideas – use of libraries, checking out the newly released 1950 census, or how about relatives from the Czech Republic? (Sorry, my brain works in word association.) Unfortunately, I don’t have any relatives from the Czech Republic.

Another idea for “Check it Out” has to do with not believing everything you find on the Internet. But we’ll save that topic for another day.

I did take a quick look at the 1950 census. Found my parents, who were both in college at the time. My dad was living at home, but my mom was living on campus. I had looked for her first at home. She wasn’t there, but her widowed father and older sister were there. What surprised me, though, was her older sister’s occupation. I knew she had been a teacher, but that’s not what it said. It said she was a census taker! Sure enough, at the top of the page where the census taker had to sign, it was her signature. I have to say, it was one of the most legible, complete pages of census I have ever read! Good job, Aunt Lucille!

But back to “checking out.” I love libraries. Grew up with the amazing library in Erie. In my mind I can still walk to the children’s section and check out “Hundreds of Cats” for the umpteenth time. But the old building was abandoned in favor of a shiny, new library down by the bay. (Now that song will be an ear worm all day.) And the new library has a wonderful Heritage section. If you have relatives in the Erie, PA area, you really need to check it out! https://erielibrary.org/resources/genealogy/

I live in Georgia but try to make it a point to visit the Erie library whenever we “go home.” I’ve spent hours reading old newspapers on microfilm. Searching through old city directories and high school yearbooks. It’s not unusual to only find one nugget of information, but that nugget leads to new avenues of exploration. I learned my great-great grandfather’s second wife’s maiden name, and the name of her second husband. (I knew his name before, but it had been spelled wrong.) Every find is a Eureka moment.

One of my favorite visits to a library was when visiting my grandfather’s ancestral home of Lyss, Canton Bern, Switzerland. I found a book of local history with early views of the town, and snapped a few pictures.

The miracle of Internet (If I can’t explain it, it’s a miracle, right?) has allowed me to visit libraries far and near. Last year I was researching a family buried at Oakland cemetery, a married couple named James and Olivia Tate, who had been enslaved and separated physically by their enslavers when Olivia was moved out of state. They stayed in touch via letters (how they learned to write is another story), and the New York Public Library Research Catalog had a collection that included some of those letters. I contacted the library, and they in turn contacted the “specialist librarians at the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture” who then forwarded the entire collection to me!

Portion of letter from James Tate to his wife Olivia

I have many more stories (no pun intended – for a change) about libraries. Interlibrary loans have saved me time and effort more than once. Let me just say here and now, libraries are amazing places, librarians are amazing people.

But don’t take my word for it. Check it out!

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