Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Backwards Progress

"Only a genealogist regards a step backwards as progress." - Author unknown

I haven't spent much time in the Genealogy department since I've worked in Adult Services. I am fortunate to have two of the county's foremost genealogical researchers (Betty Schatz and Nancy Arseneau) on my staff and a genealogist-in-training Mitchell Haug. So, I spend little time poring over genealogy records. But every now and then, there is an inexplicable force that pulls me toward the genealogy room - its worn volumes of passenger lists, local histories and census records, patiently waiting to be explored by hopeful patrons.

This morning I spent some time in the Library's genealogy room, immersing myself in old city directories and plat maps locating some information on an old house that interests me in Kankakee. Tracing the house's owners from the early 1900s until present day, I can only imagine the stories that old home must have. After wiping the crumbled bits of disintegrating book spine off of my clothes, I spent some more time exploring census records in Ancestry.com, delighted to see how easy it is to explore the census there. I was trained years ago to look through census on film, which is far from easy on my eyes. But I was able to rather effortlessly locate information about the original homeowners and found out when they emigrated from Germany (first moving to Paducah, Kentucky before settling in Kankakee, Illinois). I love it when technology and history come together so effectively.

I've always had a soft spot for genealogists and historians. I find them to be imaginative and romantics at heart, a need for facts but not afraid to fill in the blanks with what probably was true. Even if I spend 90% of my time in front of my computer, there's still a little part of me that longs to be back there among those dusty old volumes with the other researchers. Maybe some day I'll have more time to spend there, and I know Kankakee’s ancestors will be waiting patiently for me.

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services