Genealogical Research at CCHS
Genealogical research is one of the main types of research that occurs at many historical societies and libraries. It is currently an incredibly popular hobby especially with the rise of popular genealogy databases like ancestry.com. The Hamilton Library at CCHS helps many people with this type of research. Some people may wonder why people want to work on their genealogies. People become involved in genealogy for a variety reasons including:
A curiosity about yourself and your roots;
Provide your children a sense of who their ancestors were;
Preserve cultural and ethnic traditions;
Compile a medical family history;
Qualify for lineage or heritage society; and
Publish a family history.
For me, three of my four grandparents are from Cumberland County. I love stumbling across information about them. It makes me feel connected to them. In some ways, you realize that while many things are different, many really have not changed. My ancestors’ stories are part of my own story. I enjoy learning the tidbits that make them more human and less than just dates on a genealogical chart.
If you are doing genealogical research or planning to start there will be plenty of people that will share your excitements and frustrations. Genealogy is a collaborative effort. Talking with other genealogists, librarians, and archivists could give you new ideas about places to look for information. Even if they are not working on the same family line as you, they may have shared similar roadblocks or used the same types of records that you need to consult.
It is also helpful to remember that sometimes not finding content is still helpful. You may not look through a variety of records like newspapers papers and wills and not find the answer to a specific question. Learning where information does not exist is still part of an answer to a question. Perhaps not the answer you want but it is still helpful and good to know in the long term.
It is also important to remember that not everything is digitized and online. Reaching out to the historical societies in the area your family is from will likely yield more information that just what is available online. Another important fact for internet research is not everything you find online is accurate. You may find some wonderful family trees but where are their sources to back up what they are saying. Are there two people with similar names on the census and they have the wrong person connected to their tree? My great grandfather was H.R. (Harris Richard) Gutshall. I have found a tree online that has him living in Dauphin County in 1920. That was a record scratch moment for me as I know that is not possible. I know enough about my own family history to say that doesn’t make sense for a variety of reasons. I have found the correct 1920 census for him living in Middlesex Township with his wife, Nellie, and my grandmother, Mildred. It is important to remember to document sources and not assume that anyone else’s research is correct.
The best way to start research is by starting with yourself and work backward to your original ancestor or whatever your final goal is. Write down your own name and birth dates and place of birth– your spouse’s, your children (if appropriate). If married multiple times include that information as well. Then work on your parents, siblings, and grandparents’ information. Starting with yourself allows you to have the most success. Also use this as an opportunity to talk to your family members. It doesn’t have to be a formal conversation. If you want something more formal, your family members could fill in a form for you. You may want to record them speaking about various family members. I grew up in a non-traditional household. I lived with my sister, my mom, and my mom’s parents. I loved to hear the stories of various family members. It makes the names that I know seem so much more vibrant than just names and dates. I wish I had recorded some of the stories. I also wish I had thought to ask questions that I can no longer ask.
The families of Cumberland County – the family connections – they are an important part of the history of Cumberland County. The people make and define the community that they live in – for better or for worse. Learning more about the people that once lived here also gives us new perspectives on our local history.
Cara Curtis, Archives and Library Director