Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Richland Library Digital Collections

While Main-Richland Library is undergoing renovations the Walker Local History Room has relocated to a temporary location on the first floor.  All of the local history staff are excited about the future plans for our space and the library system. Unfortunate, all the construction makes it more difficult for our customers to visit so we have been busy making more resources available for free from home starting with our digital collections page.
Just about all of our Local History Digital Collections now have landing pages that provide links to additional resources and make browsing the collection easier. Here are some highlights:

Maps of Columbia and Richland County: This growing collections includes ten maps from our collection that depict streets, political boundaries, and school zones from the early twentieth century.  We also provide links to other digital collections that include Richland County maps. 

Book and Pamphlets: This new collection features books and pamphlets about Richland County and Columbia that are not available in other collections including Internet Archive and Hathitrust.  BUT!!! We include links to digitized books and pamphlets in those collections that are about Columbia/Richland County.
We have been busy adding a lot of new postcards and we always like to see what our customers show us and allow us to add to the Midland Memories collection.  #accessfreely!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The NEW Ancestry Probate Collection - a review

When I review a database I like to use real data to check the resource.  To examine the new Ancestry Probate Collection I pulled out An index to Richland County, South Carolina probate records 1785-1955. This print resource provides the name of the estate, administrator, and date of filing, box and package number.  Before Ancestry I would take the box and package information from the book and search through the South Carolina digital probate records on FamilySearch for the record (bound and loose files). It was a tedious process but, at least, it was online and I did not have to make a trip to the SC State Archive.

Ancestry now boasts a searchable database of the same digital records found on FamilySearch. For this review I found the list of all the available nationwide collections and selected South Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1670-1980. Being very familiar with the FamilySearch product I know that the bulk of the records are for the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  (Maybe there is a will for 1980 but I haven’t found it!). My first search was for Margaret Rion, date of filling: Sep 3, 1918, box 235, package 8251.The Ancestry hit shows an index page that lists Margaret H. Rion with a will on page 197.  Ancestry does not take you directly to the record.  The next step is to hunt and peck for page 197 in that same microfilm series. I just kept plugging in page numbers until I was close and then flipped page by page until I found page 197 which turns out to be on image 423. The page numbers were easy to read and the document was clear and printable/savable.

Unfortunately a sizable portion of the Ancestry content for Richland County is not indexed. A search for Lilla Peck (box # 99 package # 575) comes up with no results; however, the record is digitized and available through Ancestry (I found the record first in Ancestry's unindexed content and then looked in the print index for the complete listing). Also the Ancestry record shows incorrectly that the will is in box 88. All of the unindexed records I checked in Ancestry were found in the print index.  There are also lots of spelling errors in the Ancestry indexing.

Even the search fields are fuzzy.  One search field is called “case number”.  What the heck does that mean?  There is no definition for the field so it is unclear what information to add. I tried adding the package number.  In one search out of ten that brought up the correct record (which is nearly useless).   

My advice is to go ahead and check Ancestry first, if you have a subscription, to see if the estate record will come up but if it does not show a hit the record may still be available.  Use the FamilySearch product.  It is much clearer about what is available for each county and you are much more likely to find the probate file. There is some microfilmed indexing but if you can locate the box and package number in a print resource it is well worth the effort.  Lexington County probate index is online and some wonderful researcher has gone through the Barnwell microfilm series and made available the image numbers for the FamilySearch product. Don’t forget SC Equity Court records may hold intestate records.

It is really disappointing that Ancestry has made an inferior product available to researchers. This just adds confusion to an already complicated research process.  On the bright side, I guess it just gives me more job security!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

HeritageQuest updates

In addition to the new interface and updated census searching the folks at HeritageQuest promised more new content and they have delivered. Military records including: Records of Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865 and Registers of Death of Prisoners of war, 1861-1865 are now available. They are the same records found on FamilySearch. 
The images are not accessed by keyword searching. The browsable images do include an index, of sorts, to the records but it is an index to the microfilm records found in Record Group 109, War Dept Collection of Confederate Records.  It is more a finding aid and does not list the names in the images.  

The records for Remarried Widows index to Pension Applications is easier to search because it is organized alphabetically. Unfortunately it is alphabetized by the widow’s remarried name.  Usually that is the name I am looking for!

Other new features include worldwide Find a Grave searching, Immigration records and access to the Social Security Death Index.  The SSDI search interface is not as wonderful as the one available through Genealogy Bank but it is ok. (I really love the “born and died between…” search feature of Genealogy Bank.)

HeritageQuest is available 24/7 through your public library website.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New indexing for Freedmen Bureau records

The email just arrived to my inbox from FamilySearch News announcing new added collections . The most important for us is an indexed collection from the Freedmen Bureau records.  This collection is: Freedmen Bureau Hospital and Medical Records, 1865-1872.  The collection consists of 86,000+ images of patient lists from all the Freedmen Bureau hospitals. However, my test searches found that 66,000+ of the records are from South Carolina and 40,000+ seem to be from Richland County.  There also a bunch from the Beaufort Hospital. So this is a bonanza for SC researchers.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Elijah Willis and Accessible Archives

Beginning genealogy classes come with the territory if you are a local history librarian.  In my classes at Richland Library I always provide tutorials for accessing library genealogy databases from home.  Accessible Archives is my favorite, 24/7 database (only available with a Richland library card). It doesn’t have the census or vital statistics information but it other resources, including a historic newspapers collection, unavailable anywhere else.

When I demonstrate a database I always have a search prepared so that we don’t waste a lot of time looking for a relevant search results.  With Accessible Archives I always do a search for Elijah Willis in the historic African American newspaper collection. Willis is a white Barnwell County plantation who has a remarkable story that appears in several articles in 1855.

I search for Willis in the African American historic newspapers collection because I want to emphasize the value of not categorizing resources by race.  A resource is a resource it doesn’t necessarily have color.  Willis, as it turns out, is covered in the pre-Civil War African American newspapers because he married one of his South Carolina slaves.  He traveled with her and their six children to Cincinnati where he drafted a new will that would provide manumission for her and their children.  While in Ohio, one year after the new will was created, Elijah dropped dead of a heart attack.  The Willis family in South Carolina sued to have the widow, Mary Amy, and children returned to South Carolina as the Willis family property.

It is a great story and every time I conduct the search I want to research the family and find out what happened to Mary Amy and her children.  Well, imagine my surprise when someone left the July 29, 2015 edition of the Barnwell People Sentinel on my desk and there was an article about an Elijah Willis family reunion in Barnwell. The guest speaker was Robert H. Stuckey who recently wrote a fictional account of the Elijah and Mary Amy story called, “A Complicated Legacy.” (People Sentinel article)  

What a wonder!  I am delighted to know that someone else found the story and wrote about it.  Gotta get it and maybe work on a new search.

Monday, June 29, 2015

HeritageQuest Online goes beyond borders with international content

International genealogy information will soon be available through HeritageQuest, a database available remotely through libraries.  Since being bought by Ancestry HeritageQuest has made vast improvements in its indexing and content including the addition of the complete US census with Ancestry's every name indexing.  US city directories were also added with keyword search capabilities. 

While the HeritageQuest database selections are not as extensive as Ancestry they are a great free alternative to With the addition of international data HeritageQuest becomes a more viable tool for genealogical research.  Here is the link for more information.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

South Carolina Genealogy Society annual workshop

Welcome news! It looks like this year the SCGS workshop is going back to its roots.  Several speakers are South Carolina Department of Archives and History experts.  Some are retired archivists like Chuck Lesser and Alexia Helsley but a new member of the archives, Eric Foley, is speaking as well as director Dr. Eric Emerson. 

After years of staff reductions this is a good sign that the archives staff is getting back into the education business. 

As users we can't take advantage of their resources unless we know about them and understanding their usefulness to our research.

I hope you will be able to attend July 10 and 11 at the SC State Archives in Columbia, SC.  Here is a link to the syllabus.