Chesterfield library offers free services to trace family history

Published: Feb. 27, 2020 at 8:45 PM EST
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - Ancestor hunting is one of the fastest-growing hobbies, as many people want to know who they are and where they came from.

Chesterfield Public Library offers services for free to help assist those wanting to trace their family roots.

Start with one person and get organized - that’s all you need to do to get started, says librarian Lori Purcell.

“Talk to your oldest relative. If you can talk to multiple relatives. People remember events totally different. Write down everything you can remember about the person. Get the maiden names. Where they live. Where they came from. Even if you don’t know it’s true,” Purcell said.

On Your Side Investigator Diane Walker even used the services to help trace her ancestors around Williamsburg, South Carolina.

“In my search, we started with my mom who died during my last year of high school,” Walker said.

Purcell got the research started and talks about the documents she found on Walker’s mother,

“So, we found her right when she was born. And, I remember you said she was born 1929 or 30...So she’s a baby," Purcell said.

The census records gave confirmation listing the names of all her brothers.

“We’ve got Mary and then we found her parents, and then we also have to start on Mary’s grandparents,” Purcell said.

The records for Walker’s great grandparents are where it gets sparse, scattered and uncertain but they were able to go up a generation. So what’s next?

“I would start to go through each name and pick apart - if you can - prove the relationship. So I would start with ancestry, and it’s nice that we have it for free at the library. You do not have to buy the subscription. You can come in and then I would do a family search, which is another online database and it’s free,” Purcell said.

It’s not an overnight assignment, but there’s a free class for that also.

“I took the overview class on genealogy, tools and resources. You can schedule one-on-one time with a librarian, like I did, to have a guiding hand point you to the next step in your ancestral search,” Walker said.

“That way if you’re like ‘I’m really confused.’ We have people that have done this research and they’ll help you one-on-one. What we’ve tried to do is to get started. You can get a lot of hits. Sometimes it’s overwhelming because you’re not sure if it’s your people or your kin but you can almost immediately get hits. But, then you have to go through and make sure is this my relative?” Purcell said.

“Digging deeper, we searched for my maternal grandfather. I have one photo of grandmother Louise but have never seen a picture of grandfather Menon and know little about him,” Walker said.

What Purcell helped Walker find next left her amazed.

“This is his draft registration and you see I’ve already got a big discrepancy with the age. I have 1884, 1874.. and the spelling is almost how you said, Menon. So, I’m pretty sure this is him. He registered for the war and there’s the actual registration card," Purcell said.

“Oh, man. Look at that!" Walker said.

Chesterfield Public Library also offers free shuttle service to the Library of Virginia where you can continue your research into genealogy. The library has a page on its website to help you get started.

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