Library offers a quest into lives from the past

There’s a vast amount of historical information waiting to be tapped into at Heritage Quest Research Library in Sumner. And Jim Johnson, its director, wants people to know it’s all available for the public’s use.

Wayland Weeks of Orting discovers historical information Nov. 18 at the Heritage Quest Research Library in Sumner. Its volunteer staff offers assistance for both its printed and online data bases.

Data reveals a puzzle of

family names

There’s a vast amount of historical information waiting to be tapped into at Heritage Quest Research Library in Sumner. And Jim Johnson, its director, wants people to know it’s all available for the public’s use.

A fraction of that information includes U.S. Census books dating from 1790 to 1930.

Those censuses, although taken every decade, are only released every 72 years with personal information included. The release of the 1940 census will take place in 2012 and offer a glimpse into the lives of Americans during the post-Great Depression era. It will also offer data previously not recorded.

“This one will ask how much money they made the previous year, where they lived in 1935, the highest grade attended in school and if anyone went to war,” Johnson said.

Discovering the censuses is only the beginning.

“There is so much information here,” Promotions Director Rachel Farley said.

That information is included on hundreds of shelves that provide history and genealogy buffs a peek into the occupations, income, lifestyles and textiles of early Americans and emigrants.

“I’d like to see a high school student come in here and tap into history,” Farley said. “We’ll help them.”

With so many resources available, the staff of HQRL want to dispel the myth that their library – and genealogy – are reserved only for those seeking their ancestries for religious purposes.

“There’s history here,” Farley said.

Such as sections devoted to the Civil War; original hard copies of newspaper obituaries; records from the Mayflower; passenger lists; adoption resources; international emigrants from Scandinavia, Canada, Ireland, Germans from Russia and hundreds more.

That’s just for starters.

Other sections include African-American military personnel; a series of Who’s Who in America, from 1901 to the present; Native American history; Daughters of the American Revolution; family history books by surname; and even city directories that list not only business names but the employees who worked there.

In its electronic section, both the microfilm and microfiche can be accessed with the library’s new scanner that enables users to transfer data to thumb drives. And the library’s Internet service allows access to five data bases, all included in the annual membership of $35 per family, $30 single membership or $5 per visit. That saves about $270 a year compared to a personal subscription to Ancestry.com, Johnson noted.

Farley, who retired from engineering four years ago, discovered the excitement of searching for family history 10 years ago. Once she found relatives from both the Mayflower and the American Revolution she was hooked, she said.

“I discovered my great-great-grandpa was a riverboat captain in Ohio,” she said.

Such records hold a lot of information.

“You can look at it and find widows who applied for a Revolutionary War pension or who had rights to the bounty land grants the government gave in exchange for a family member’s war service,” she explained. That’s how Farley learned that 80 acres had been given to her family in Ohio, in the same area where President Ulysses S. Grant was raised.

Johnson is never surprised when folks like Farley become fascinated with their past.

“Ninety percent of people discover genealogy because they’ve lost their first parent,” he said.

And for whatever the reason behind the search, the library staff is always ready to help point them up the right family tree.

“We call it ‘My 16,’” Johnson said. “You start with yourself, your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.”

And if they don’t know their names?

“You start with you,” volunteer librarian Ginger Weeks said.

“Almost all searches begin with U.S. Census records,” Johnson said. Genealogy can be far from boring and can be a perfect way for students and their teaches to access historical resources, he said.

“It’s like a great big jigsaw puzzle,” Farley said.

The library offers an extensive supply of books and computer programs in addition to classes and is always seeking donations of historical references, including directories, maps and books. Its hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday. It is located next to the railroad tracks, behind the former K.C.’s Caboose, at 909 Main St., Suite 5, in Sumner. Parking is available in the rear of the building. Its phone is 253-863-1806.

Reach Judy Halone at jhalone@courierherald.com or 360-802-8210.

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