Genealogy research popular at Briggs Library

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 5, 2003

Janice Beck is looking for Daniel Hankins.

"I know he probably had a wife, too," she said, thumbing through a huge book of old deeds at the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library. "He had all these children."

Beck won't actually find Hankins, who died years and years ago. If she finds out anything about him - where he lived, what he did for a living and who that wife was - she will be satisfied.

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The Alta Vista, Kan., resident spent a few days this week in Lawrence County, researching her maternal genealogy. Hankins was her ancestor - seven generations ago.

"My mother's family came from Ohio, and moved to Missouri and then to Kansas," Beck said.

Beck, who is a retired high school business teacher, became interested in genealogy 30 years ago.

"My mother was talking one day about some of my (distant) cousins, and I asked how they were related and from there it went from bad to worse," Beck said with a laugh. When her son's employee needed a ride back to Ohio, Beck quickly offered to bring him, knowing it would give her the chance to see where part of her family came from.

Beck isn't alone. Each year 200 to 300 people visit the library's Hamner Genealogy Room in search of the deed, the birth certificate or some other document that will tell them about their family tree.

"We get people from all over Ohio, from Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, California," Briggs-Lawrence Library Assistant Director Judy Carpenter said. Carpenter is also president of the Lawrence County Genealogical Society. "There are people who take their vacations and come and research their roots."

Everybody's doing it

Carpenter said genealogy attracts both young and old, people from all walks of life who just want to know where they came from. She began researching her family tree while she was a child.

"I was in the fifth grade," Carpenter said. "I started out asking family members who we are and where we came from."

Carpenter recommends that people who want to start a genealogy project start first by talking to older members of the family, and by looking through documents the family already has, such birth certificates. The family Bible can yield a wealth of information, provided that someone in the family has kept careful record in it of births, death, marriages and other events.

From there, Carpenter suggests the family researcher look for documentation at courthouses, health departments and libraries.

The Briggs-Lawrence Library's Hamner Room has on microfilm Lawrence County deed records from 1816-1876, birth records through Lawrence County Probate Court from 1868-1938, marriage records from 1817-2002, death records through probate court from 1868-1938, an index of birth and death records through the city health department from 1909-2001, wills from 1847 to the 1990s, census records from 1820-1930, Civil War discharge papers for Lawrence Countians, some iron furnace records and some naturalization records.

Hamner Room Clerk Mary Counts said the library are city directories from 1882-2003, and newspapers from 1850 to the present.

These days many in search of their past are turning to a modern-day convenience for family information: the computer.

Carpenter said another resource that the library provides is the chance to network with other people who are also researching their genealogy. Other family history buffs might have advice on collecting information or getting that official document. They might also be a long-lost relative.

"Don't be quiet when you come in here," Carpenter said. "Nine times out of 10, the person sitting next to you is looking for the same family information that you are."

Counts said while the bulks of the library's information is on Lawrence County, there are some resources with information about surrounding counties in Ohio and border counties in Kentucky.

Looking up the family tree

Like Beck, Carpenter's search has taken her to distant places, looking for the latest piece of the family puzzle. "I've been to Pennsylvania, Indiana, and all over Ohio," Carpenter said. "It all depends on how far you want to take it.

"I wish more people would get involved in genealogy," Carpenter said. "I'm always surprised by people who don't want to know (where they came from). They're not proud. I think people should be proud, whether it's good or bad. Write that stuff down and pass it along."