Genealogy Research Across the Years at the Central Arkansas Library System
By Alysanne Crymes
The CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in the Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art has a wealth of genealogical materials and information for those who are interested in searching their family tree. I’d like to give a little history of how these offerings have grown and changed over the years.
I have been employed as a reference librarian at the Central Arkansas Library System since October 1985. The library at that time was located at 700 Louisiana Street in downtown Little Rock and was two stories tall. The genealogy materials were housed on the second floor along with the Arkansas history books in the Arkansas Room. The collection was small but had information on almost every state, with the largest section being about Arkansas. Staff members from the Reference Department assisted patrons with their family research. None of us were trained to do genealogy research, and let’s just say that business was not all that brisk. It seems that most of the people who came to the reference desk knew more about genealogy than we did. Of course, there was always the occasional patron who wandered in and asked if this was where they could trace their roots. Or, they would ask if we could just open a book that would reveal their whole family tree! Today, the Butler Center’s genealogy materials are in the Roberts Library with many of the same books—but now with so much more.
Genealogical research has evolved much as the CALS genealogical department has, mostly due to technology. Before we had the technological advancements of today, patrons visited libraries and traveled around the country to county courthouses, spending hours poring through old records and books, visiting cemeteries, or hand cranking a microfilm reader handle hoping to find an obituary or reference to a relative. Patience and determination were necessary traits to be able to locate information. Needless to say, it was a tedious process.
Perhaps one of the biggest advancements in genealogical research is the internet and specifically Ancestry.com. It is a great place to start, and the Roberts Library offers CALS patrons the full subscription. Patrons who visit and are just beginning to search for their family are often amazed at how much information can be found in a short time. Digitization has made it possible to see records online that once required a call or visit to the local vital records office. The Roberts Library Research Room offers many other databases, such as Fold 3, Family Search, Fire Insurance Maps, and Newspapers.com. Through Newspapers.com, for instance, patrons can access the Arkansas Democrat from 1878 and the Arkansas Gazette from 1819 to 1923. The site is searchable, and articles can be easily printed, saved, or emailed. Yes, there are still microfilm readers, but hand cranking is no longer required. Microfilm readers are linked to a computer that allows patrons to whiz through the film and information in articles, obituaries, etc. Often, microfilmed resources are difficult to read due to poor quality, but these new machines allow patrons the ability to enlarge and enhance images for cleaner copies. Fire insurance maps have been digitized and offer a wealth of information for genealogists, showing subdivision names, streets, buildings, and building details. They are useful for genealogists who are interested in seeing what particular buildings, neighborhoods, and towns looked like in the past.
With the ability to locate so much information at one’s fingertips, it is no wonder that genealogy has become the second-most-popular hobby in the United States. Come visit the Research Room at the CALS Roberts Library, with its experienced research services staff, and find out for yourself.