Exploring your family history at the Birmingham Public Library

Mary Anne Ellis is ready to help you with genealogy research 

By Cheyenne Trujillo|Birmingham Public Library PR Department 

When we think of celebrating family, November and December are typically the months that come to mind.

Yet, October is actually Family History Month.

Pause the month-long Halloween celebrations for a second, and learn more about your family history this October with the Birmingham Public Library's (BPL) Southern History Department.

"Explore the gene pool" sculpture from Heads up Alabama! 
With numerous DNA testing kits on the market, using your local library to research family history might not be your first thought.

But members of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative (JCLC) offer resources that testing kits do not.

Our Southern History Department is a leading authority on Southern life and culture, focusing specifically on Birmingham, Jefferson County, and Alabama.

Family Tree Magazine listed the Birmingham Public Library as one of the top 10 best libraries for genealogy research twice because of the Southern History Department's expertise.

On the unique resources libraries offer for genealogy research, Mary Anne Ellis, a Librarian Ⅰ in our Archives Department, said:

I think resource sharing is one reason libraries are so important to genealogy research. There was a time when working on your family history meant being prepared to travel long distances and write lots of letters to institutions and collections, but now libraries offer a huge network of resources...When your system is one like the BPL with a special collection largely devoted to family history research, that's a bonus. We can offer the specialized materials necessary for genealogical research and if it's something we don't have here in the library, we can point you in the right direction.

 

The Southern History Department has access to many records and databases

The Southern History Department boasts extensive periodicals, newspaper clippings, online databases, as well as their Caribbean Collection, the BPL Cartography Collection, and the Rare Book Room.

Topping off this vast collection, the BPL also has a library subscription to Ancestry.com that is accessible to patrons for free on all BPL computers.

Recalling a favorite moment assisting patrons with genealogy research, Mary Anne shared how recently a patron solved a family member's mysterious cause of death, putting to rest a long debated topic in their family tree.

Her favorite part of the job is when patrons solve a mystery or make another interesting discovery along the way.

As of right now, access to the Southern History Department is by appointment only.

These resources are solely for reference use, which means these books cannot leave the Research building.

However, you can request copies of select materials. Call the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665 to make an appointment or visit "Ask a Librarian" to submit an inquiry.

Aside from the collection, this Saturday, October 2, the Southern History Department is hosting their first virtual Family History Month genealogy program of 2021.

Hidden No More: Locating Enslaved Persons in Local Legal Records, Saturday, October 2, 2:00 p.m.

This is a virtual Zoom program. Visit our event calendar or LinkedIn page to register for the program.

In his presentation “Hidden No More: Locating Enslaved Persons in Local Legal Records” Montgomery County, Alabama archivist Dallas Hanbury shows how researchers can use mortgages, estate files, wills, and more, to locate enslaved people in local legal records.

He also shows how scholars can use these documents to gain an understanding of how slavery manifested itself in communities across the South, as well as to help restore humanity to the enslaved persons formerly hidden in the historical record.

Hanbury has a master’s degree in history with emphasis on public archives and a doctorate in public history, both from Middle Tennessee State University.

For more information on genealogy programs, contact the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665 or askgenlocal@cobpl.org

Make sure to follow the BPL on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what’s happening at your local library.

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