I recently sat down with one of our experienced volunteer genealogy researchers, Patricia "Pat" Smith, to learn a bit about how she got started in the world of family history.
Why did you start researching your genealogy?
I used to take the occasional class at Piedmont Adult School and one year they offered a genealogy class. I went to the class, but there weren't enough people signed-up to continue the class. The instructor's solution was to ask if any of us would like to go to Oakland's LDS (Mormon) church. At the FamilySearch Center we learned what they had and got a feel for genealogy.
After the walk-through, we were given some time to try our hand at it. At that time, all they had were four microfilm readers and several stacks of books. Boy, how times have changed!
"The only person I knew to search for was my third great grandfather, who had been in the revolutionary war. That first night I found him on several census records. I was in."
What did you need to learn?
Everything. I attended some classes at the Adult School and a few other LDS classes. I made lots of trips to the Sutro Library (San Francisco) and the National Archives (San Bruno), plus I went to Salt Lake City on a New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) research trip and asked a lot of questions.
What were some of your first experiences with the California Genealogical Society?
I was in Salt Lake City with NEHGS and was talking to someone about a family I was working on. He said, "You know, your own society in Oakland has information about that family in their collection."
When I got home, I went to the library in Oakland, which at the time was located at 16th St and Telegraph Ave. Sure enough, there was the material that I had been seeking. After that, I spent more time at the library, became a member, volunteered, etc.
Describe a personal "brick wall, break-through moment".
I had looked for my second, great grandmother for some time. I knew her maiden name was Durham; at least that was what it appeared to be on the marriage license. I had looked at Durham's all over Ohio and Indiana with no luck. One day I was at the Sutro library reading a county history for Sandusky County Ohio and saw the name Charles Dirlam in the index for the biographies.
I decided to read his bio. In it, he had listed the names of all of his siblings along with the cities and states in which they lived. And then I saw it, "The name of his sister (my second, great grandmother), her husband's name and where they were living in 1896. I was so thrilled!"
What do you hope someone new to genealogy research will get from joining or visiting our library?
Our library has a wealth of printed material, from our extensive book collection and periodicals to our archival holdings. Our collection also includes information about every state in the United States and much about Great Britain. "As impressive as that is, the main thing is that our desk people are very friendly and the classes are invaluable."
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