Stay at Home Increases Family History Research

Family History Research banner

With the stay at home order in place once again, being at home has led to many creative and innovative ways to spend time.  One way that has become apparent to us at the library is the increased interest in family history. Many library patrons have expressed that this is something they have always wanted to pursue, and are now taking advantage of the time to actually do it!

During 2018, we received 488 questions pertaining to genealogy and local history. However, this has been steadily increasing with 672 questions in 2019, and 792 questions in 2020. We have already received over 300 questions in just the first three months of 2021.

One of my favourite aspects of my work at Thunder Bay Public Library is helping library patrons find answers to their questions about local and family history. Having done this for a number of years, I certainly have some memorable moments of what people have discovered in their genealogical searches. For example, one patron enthusiastically revealed to me that she had traced her ancestors back to Salem, and her great grandmother was considered a witch! Another discovered a marriage of one of her parents that she didn’t know about, and a sibling that she had no idea existed! Searching family history can be life changing!

The library is unique in that it houses many important resources that can assist with this research. First of all, we carry all of the local newspapers from Fort William and Port Arthur from as early as 1877 to 1972, as well as the Chronicle Journal (1972-present) and Times-News (1974-1996).The newspaper collection is available on microfilm and digital copy (2016-present), and is in the midst of further conversion from microfilm to digitization. We also have holdings for Lakehead Living (1973-1994), Thunder Bay Post (1995-2003), and Thunder Bay Source (2004-present).

photo of a Henderson Directoy

If you want to trace the history of your house or a city street address, we also carry the Henderson city directories which give information about who lived in Fort William and Port Arthur from 1884 to 2003, after which time the directories were discontinued. Our reference collection also includes local telephone directories from the early 1950s with intermittent years to present day. 

Our local history files and indexes also contain valuable biographical and historical information about people, places, and events of the past. Our Special Collection archival materials include many local history books that are kept in a temperature controlled space to preserve them for perpetuity. For this reason, they cannot be checked out of the library, and unfortunately cannot be accessed at this time. However, scans of materials can still be sent out by email.

One of our most popular search tools is our obituary and social news indexes. These are available in print in the library and online through our website at tbpl.ca. Even though you are not able to come into the library right now to do this research yourself, you can email your requests to reference@tbpl.ca, and we will send you a digital scan in a timely manner.

Finally, Thunder Bay Public Library also provides access to the library edition of Ancestry.com.

This can also be found through our website at tbpl.ca. Free remote access to this database has been extended until June 2021! The only notable difference with the Library edition of Ancestry.com is it does not offer any of the personalization tools such as creating and linking family trees. If you would like to learn more about how to access Ancestry.com, or any of our other services, please contact us at 345-8275 or comments@tbpl.ca and we will be happy to assist you!  

Marja Mack  –www.tbpl.ca. If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you.

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