September 8th, 2012 Brian Herzog
I only heard about this third-hand, but I still found it funny.
A patron walked up to one of our male circulation desk assistants with a copy of the library's event calendar in hand. She pointed to an event on one of the days and asked,
How does this gynecology program work? Does a doctor come in and give people free exams?
Confused (because we have never offered free gynecological exams [and I can't imagine a public library ever doing that]), he looked at the calendar and replied,
Oh, no, that's our Genealogy Group.
Not quite the same thing. A very simple misunderstanding, but I am easily amused.
January 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog
I thought this question was interesting for three reasons:
- The question is unusual
- I hardly played a role at all in answering it
- Despite #2, the patron got an excellent answer
Here's what happened: an email came to the reference desk from someone in the Netherlands, who is writing a book on the Allied pilots who took part in the air war over his country during WWII. In his book, he wants to focus on the lives of the men as people, instead of them as soldiers, and so is trying to track down things like what they did before the war, who their wives/girlfriends were, what growing up was like for them, etc.
Through his research in identifying and tracing the crews of planes shot down in his area, he found that one of the men was a Chelmsford resident. He sent me the man's name and date of death, and asked us to find out whatever we could about his life before the war.
This sounded like an impossible question, especially since we don't have the staff to research something like this. However, I forwarded it to the local genealogy club (with the patron's permission), as they often have volunteers who are willing to work on projects like this.
Within a day, a genealogy club volunteer located an obituary for a descendant of the Chelmsford WWII flier (which mentioned the deceased WWII flier by name), and the obituary also listed the names of living relatives. The volunteer looked up the relatives in the phone book, contacted them, explained about the book the man from the Netherlands was working on, and gave them his contact information. They said they'd be delighted to provide information for him, and would contact him as soon as they organized some photos and other information.
How great is that? I hope the author has this much success in locating information on the other airmen in his book, and I'm happy that there are other organizations in town I can rely on to pick up where the library leaves off.
This is another example of the reference librarian's motto: "you don't have to know the answer to every question, you just have to know where to find the answers."
November 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog
In honor of Veterans Day, Ancestry.com is offering free access to all of its US Military resources through Friday, Nov. 13th.
An AP story also says that Ancestry has added some new resources, including
...more than 600 Navy cruise books...[which] include the names and photos of those who served on ships...one book - a 1946 edition for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania - includes a photo of TV legend Johnny Carson.
Great idea, Ancestry - thank you. And if I may suggest another great idea: offer libraries remote access at an affordable price.
Tags: access, ancestry, ancestry.com, database, free, genealogy, libraries, Library, military, online, public, remote, research
May 16th, 2009 Brian Herzog
My goal for these weekly reference questions is to show something useful or interesting. This week's just show how exasperating reference can be.
A patron comes to the desk as says,
I have a painting that I think is by Max Bill. These suckers go for $300,000, so I want to compare the signature on it to his signature on the internet so I can unload it.
Okay, that seems reasonable. And after about ten minutes of searching, we had found some signed artwork [pdf]. But none of the signatures match the one on the patron's painting, and we couldn't find any record of the title of the patron's painting.
At this point I would have concluded it must not be an authentic painting, or that he'd need to contact a professional to make the determination. But the patron insisted on continuing, as he really, really wanted to find a matching signature.
After another 20 minutes with no results, I told him I had to help other patrons (a woman had just walked up behind him - no one else had come to the desk during this half hour). We looked up the number of a couple art appraisers, and I took his name and number in case I was able to find anything else.
He walks away, and the woman steps up and says,
I want to know the genealogy of Abraham Lincoln.
Huh. Well, this seemed to rule out biographies, and nothing else in our catalog looked applicable, so I tried the internet.
Pretty quickly we found Lincon's ancestry on Genealogy.com, which traces Lincoln's ancestors back thirteen generations. We looked at a couple generations, then the patron says,
No, no, I want it to go the other way. I want to prove that I'm related to him, because my grandmother says we are, and she's never wrong.
Oh, well, that's something entirely different. I search for lincoln descendants, and found a few websites that said there are no living descendants of Lincoln.
This of course doesn't rule out that she is related to him in some way, but probably not a blood-line direct descendant. She had that look in her eye like she was going to ask me to prepare her entire family genealogy for her to connect her family to Lincoln's, but other patrons were waiting so I had to cut it short. She checked out a couple of his biographies, and was going to go talk to her grandmother.
Sigh. I never like giving people bad news, but trying to answer a question by continually searching for information that might not exist is tough. Still, I enjoyed looking at the Max Bill art, and that was good Lincoln trivia I hadn't known.
Tags: abraham lincoln, autograph, descendants, family, genealogy, libraries, Library, lincoln, max bill, public, Reference Question, signature
December 9th, 2008 Brian Herzog
One of the publications that gets mailed to my library is aROUNDtheTABLE, the newsletter of The Genealogy Roundtable in Concord, MA.
In addition to success stories from peoples' family research, it also often has tips on things like scanning black and white negatives, how photos can be used for research, etc. This issue also had some humorous columns - here are some excerpts which made me laugh on a Tuesday afternoon:
You know you're addicted to Genealogy...
- ...when you brake for libraries
- ...if you get locked in a library overnight and you never even notice
Top ten worst ways to begin a family history:
- #8 - "Cal me Ishmael," our ancestor Ishmael Johnson might have said if you asked, "What should we call you?"
- #6 - Let me start by saying this book would have been better if my g'damn relatives had answered my g'damn questions.
- #1 - In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Several years later, my grandmother was born in Des Moines.
Ah, humor makes any periodical more interesting.
And speaking of genealogy, I attended a great genealogy session at the annual NELA conference. Given by Cindy O’Neil of the Manchester (NH) City Library, it outlined the resources needed for a genealogy core collection (for New England), and is worth skimming.
June 2nd, 2007 Brian Herzog
Last week I received a letter in my mailbox at work. It started:
I work for the U. S. Marine Corp Casualty Section. I am looking for a copy of three obituaries that might help us locate a next of kin. I am hoping you have a service that could help us get a copy of these obituaries.
The letter then went on to list three peoples' names, their birth and death dates (death dates ranging from 1977 to 1995), and their social security numbers, as well as the contact information to use to send her what we find.
Now, we get genealogical research requests like this all the time, but never from the Marine Corps. Hmm. And, the contact information she cited was a street address in Murray, Utah, and a Yahoo.com email address - both seemed unMarinelike.
I checked the Marine Corps website and didn't see any listing for a Casualty Section, but did eventually find a form to request casualty information. The resulting email was basically about recently injured Marines, and the Corps' next-of-kin notification policy.
Not, I need to say, that any of this matters. Of course we researched these three names and sent the patron what we found. Unfortunately, we found that none of the three died locally enough or recently enough for us to be able to find their obituaries. As part of the response, I gave the patron the contact information for the libraries in the communities where these people died, hoping that those libraries would have their local newspapers on microfilm.
But I still found this particular request just... odd. If it weren't for that line about the Marine Corps, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. Even though the information was already sent to the patron, I felt a need to keep digging a little further.
At the bottom of the casualty information email from the Marine Corps website, there was a phone number for the Corps' Personal and Family Readiness Division. I thought that if I called it, at least I could find out if the Casualty Section actually existed, and if they used freelance researchers based in Utah to find next of kin.
After speaking with a Public Affairs Specialist in that office for a few minutes, I found out that no, the Marine Corps does not have an office in Murray, UT, does not use freelancers for this type of work, and would never (in his estimation) do any kind of official work with a Yahoo.com email address.
So what does all of this mean? Nothing, I guess. We answered this question just like any other, because why patrons request certain information is largely irrelevant. I don't know why this person claimed to be from the Marines, because, true or not, it was not necessary.
genealogical research, genealogy, libraries, library, marine corps, marines, obituaries, public libraries, public library, reference question