EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series on the new Billings Public Library.
Do you need help growing the branches of your family tree? In the new Billings Public Library, resources to unearth old family connections will be available in the Genealogy Room.
Through the efforts of the members of the Yellowstone Genealogy Forum (YFG), support will be available free to the public to discover one’s family heritage and to grow a family tree.
P.J. Smith, YFG president, recommends that in the search for relatives and the creation of a family tree, “You should start with yourself. Then you work your way back to your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.”
Also, information such as the year of birth and their general location helps in getting the correct information. Smith enjoys discovering new family members and learning more about the stories of her ancestors. Her family reunites yearly, and through her research she has included new family members at each reunion.
“I am continually looking for relatives,” she said. “I have cousins out there that I want to know.” Her investigative work provided enough material for her to put together a calendar made up of a dozen different families.
The community benefits from YFG’s instructional efforts toward effective genealogical research. The Forum assists in the location and preservation of genealogical and historical records.
According to Library Director Bill Cochran, “The Library has had a letter of agreement with the Yellowstone Genealogy Forum since 2002 that recognizes that in return for space to maintain a collection of genealogical materials within the library, the Forum provides assistance to library patrons in how to use the resources and answers all the genealogical inquiries the Library receives. This has worked very well to the benefit of the library, the Forum, and experienced and new genealogists. We’re hoping that our new building will provide new opportunities to expand on programs and training that the Forum has provided to the public over the years.”
In 1977 the mini-series “Root” inspired many to learn about their families,” says Smith. “Four months after its airing (on May 26, 1977) “the four ‘founding mothers’ (Betty Seder, Farrell Stewart, Joan Evans, and Dolly Ziegler) wanted to know if there was enough interest in family research to form a society in Billings. About 50 people joined that year.”
To this day, members organize programs on topics such as obtaining information through immigration, naturalization and census data; producing a newsletter; helping each other with research; and in the near future, providing an informational members-only website.
In the new Billings Public Library, aside from the vast book collection, with 100 more linear shelf feet than the current room, Smith says that new resources include computer access to the library’s “Ancestry” as well as “several databases that the Forum has created, such as Smith Funeral Home records and Obituary Index to the Billings Gazette (2005 to present), and local genealogy and history. Patrons may print to a library printer for a nominal charge.”
Currently, “The Forum is working with ‘Find My Past’ to scan and index 102,000 obituaries covering from 1982-2004, and another 17,500 obituaries from 1955-1969” which will be available online. Also, according to Smith, the room will be filled with genealogy materials – family histories, periodicals for Germans from Russia and Daughters of the American Revolution, local obituaries and immigration passenger lists – to help further family history research. Materials are non-circulating, and the Forum catalogs and maintains the collection.
Smith relishes that in the new building, “We’ll have more space in which to logically arrange the research materials. We plan to have a professional-looking library that is easy to use. We plan to expand the collection to aid patrons researching their Montana ancestors. The collection development will focus on states along the Ohio and Missouri rivers, two of the main migration routes to Montana.” Then with the Montana Room right next door, more extensive historical information may be available, especially if one’s heritage originates from this part of the world.
Sharing information is one of the Forum’s main assets. Class offerings have included educating users on performing internet research using such resources as Heritage Quest, familysearch.org, glorecords at blm.gov, ellisisland, FindaGrave, SSDI, Cyndi’s List and a few others. Recently, YGF members Judy Cohen and Jason Herman helped a dozen Boy Scouts earn their genealogy badges by having hands-on experience with research in the Montana Room, the Genealogy Room and the computer lab.
According to the adult services librarian of the Billings Public Library, Amy Davis, the library has received a grant from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for funding public programming focused on our nation’s 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Davis is in the process of coordinating programs in April and May for all ages – children to adults. Already on the calendar are composer and music instructor Craig Naylor and poet Dave Caserio while the YGF will be presenting a program on the topic of “Tracing Your Civil War Ancestors.”
With the Yellowstone Genealogy Forum’s diligence in collecting and cataloging historical information, future generations will be able to discover their family lineage more easily and extensively. In the new Billings Public Library, new offerings and resources will help facilitate finding ancestors and building a family tree.