“Using Local Resources for Genealogy Research” topic for April 30 at Eureka Public Library

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

On a weekly basis we have people who come to the Eureka Public Library on their quest to find out more about their family history. It is interesting to hear the stories that have brought them to Eureka, and to the library. Sometimes we know the people who are looking; sometimes we have visitors who have come a great distance, hoping to follow a faint trail that often ends on a tombstone in a cemetery. The stories documented or not, are then left to be recorded as, “To the best of my recollection…”

I had the wonderful opportunity last Tuesday to spend the morning with Julie Hendricks, Administrative Coordinator for the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Center. Julie gave me a tour of the museum and library housed in the Heritage Center while we talked about her upcoming program here at EPLD. Julie loves her job and it is joy to spend time talking with her and listening to the stories she has heard from people who come to the Heritage Center looking into their family genealogy. Julie helps them use the resources there, and also directs them to other places, both locally and online in hopes of helping with their research. Julie will be speaking here at EPLD on Monday April 30, 6:30 p.m. on using local resources for genealogical research. Julie’s program is free and open to anyone in central Illinois interested in attending.

During my visit we talked about many resources, including the Heritage Center Library which is rich in local history as well as Mennonite and Anabaptist materials. (She also allowed me a quick walk-through of the archives, a depository of local church and family historical documents). The museum on the upper level was of interest to me, with a huge collection of hand-operated corn planters, displays of pioneer and early American rooms, and memorabilia from the Mennonite School of Nursing in Bloomington-Normal and the Mennonite Relief Sales held in Central Illinois.  “Our Daily Bread” is the current gallery display, featuring many items used in food preparation previous to the 1940s.  It was while we looking at the variety of home and kitchen items included in the display that Julie began to share with me the importance of collecting “oral histories”.

If you are not familiar with the concept of oral histories, let me offer a quick explanation. An oral history is a planned interview conducted with people who would have participated in or observed historical events. The value of the oral history is that the event is preserved for future generations. Preservation can be through a video or oral taping, or by written transcript. Events can be anything from a specific once-in-a-generation occurrence to everyday life events as remembered by the interviewee. Oral histories might be used within a family to validate events that cannot be found in formal written sources, and as Julie commented, oral histories are specific to individuals and the way they “felt” and remembered the occasion. Often the emotions expressed and the clarity of details surrounding the events draws those watching, listening, or reading the oral history back to a time and place they could not visit in any other way.

Julie plans to talk about oral histories as part of her presentation next week at EPLD, as well as covering resources available throughout Woodford County and online resources. Julie also provides handouts and forms helpful for those just beginning to look into their family genealogy. We would love to have you be part of this informational meeting at EPLD. Please call the Library at 467-2922 to reserve a seat.