After the birth of my third child in four years, I caught myself one day singing a Barney song in the shower. It was the one about the farmer growing oats, peas, and beans. Maybe you can sing it, too. I am a college graduate with several teaching certifications, with no grudge or ill feelings toward Barney. But it occurred to me that my decision to stay home with my kids while they were small had its price.
Another price of this decision was that we had only one relatively humble income. I needed to find something to exercise my brain that cost little or nothing. My husband agreed to tend the tots, and I drove our little compact
station wagon to the George Branch of the Fort Bend County Library system. I wandered upstairs and into a glassed-in room that said "Genealogy Library" on the door. I was eyed with some suspicion as I entered. I soon realized it
was perhaps because I was the only person under the age of seventy in the place.
That day I found a place that challenged my mind, was almost completely silent, and was kept deliciously cold on the hottest summer days by an electricity bill other than my own. This is an amazing thing for a mother with
three toddlers and a tight budget.
This was twelve years ago. I returned to teaching but never stopped researching my own and others' ancestries. I have earned another teaching certification that allows me to teach history. My family has taken trips to wonderful and obscure places so that I can visit graveyards, courthouses, and yes, more libraries. I have helped my students research and document more than 1,000 of their family stories. I am currently working on a reference book about a 19th century graveyard that has almost been wiped out by hurricanes in the Florida panhandle.
The public library is a place where books, of course, are available. But it is also a lifeline to the past and future. Our small genealogy library in Richmond, Texas, is staffed by friendly people who can show you where the antique maps are. They will show you how to load the microprint reader, or utilize the microfiche. Naturally, there is a computer, but it is the collection of books that still draws me, 2,138 families and 6,000 individual ancestors later. I pull a 1970 phone book off of the shelf and find my family listed, validation perhaps, that there was a time when computers and caller ID were not in use.
A few years into my work, I was trading emails with a researcher in Indiana who shared a family line with mine. I asked her for documentation on a particular bit of information. Her source was a Helen Tuley Hubert, whose research was on file at the Rockport Library in Spencer County, Indiana. This was my own paternal grandmother, a mother of five, who had perhaps sought silence, mental stimulation, and free a/c in a library herself before I was even born.