Friday, September 20, 2013

A World Without Books

"Browse the stacks", suggested a librarian, speaking at FGS 2013. The thought that popped into my head was "while you still can." It's amazing how far we've come in the past few years with online records and books.

Did you see the news clip about the library that recently opened in San Antonio? It's a library without any books. It's all about computers and e-books and tablets and e-readers. Someday that will be normal, rather than newsworthy.

As genealogists, we're moving our own records out of folders and binders into computers and online trees. We're part of the digital movement, too. We research from the comfort of our homes at any hour of the day or night.

But there are benefits to books. I love to walk into a library to research a county and just look in the stacks to see what the holdings are for that county. I can prioritize which books for that county should be looked at first. I can pull out a book to see if it's indexed. I can look at drawings or photos that would elude me in an online database of the same book.

The speaker went on to suggest working in one record set at a time when doing online research. That makes sense. It would be like looking at one book at a time. The additional thought that came to my mind is to look at the front matter and the index if the record set is a published book. A few minutes in the index could turn up unknown relatives or an unexpected fact.

That was reinforced to me while researching in Macon County, Illinois last month. You may recall that I'm looking for information about a woman whose marriage record was spelled Breitwacher. I had decided that the spelling was likely Breitwieser. In the historical society, I was looking at an index to transcribed Militia Rolls and couldn't find my ancestor. I went to the letters "Br" and there found William Bradspreacher. That's spelled Breitsprecher in other military records. I think this is the right name. But I would never have found this information while searching by name.

I've embraced the digital age and I need to remember to analyze online books more like the paper version. But I still want to explore real books. Before my area libraries get rid of all their books, I need to browse some stacks. All those lovely Pennsylvania books sitting an hour away in Raleigh come to mind. Who'd think I could research Pennsylvania in North Carolina!

I challenge you to find out what useful resources are in a library near you. Do you have some stacks to browse?

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