Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Researching your family history? Make Cardiff libraries your first stop

Ever thought about researching your family tree or the area where you live but don’t know where to start? Welsh Libraries Champion Ruth Jones and celebrity genealogist Cat Whiteaway urge you to make the library your first port of call.

Cat Whiteaway studies the history of families and the line of descent from their ancestors. She said: “I wouldn’t be able to produce my radio and television programmes without the help of libraries. The local knowledge of staff is key and we very often find volunteers with expertise and enthusiasm in a particular subject area in the library.”

“One of the highlights of my job is talking to people and piecing together a jigsaw – my job would be incredibly boring if I found the answers all in one place. I love to bring a family tree to life by delving a bit further – how they lived, what were the work and living conditions like, local and social history – I certainly couldn’t do it alone and libraries are one of the best places to begin my research.”

One particular story sticks in Cat’s mind, “A lovely gentleman in his 60s had never seen a photo of his father because he had died when he was only two years old. He had always wondered what his father looked like, so I went along to his local library and staff were able to tell me which newspapers to look at from around the time of his death. We found him listed as ‘missing in action’ and this was the first time the gentleman had seen a picture of his father via a 1942 newspaper which we printed off a microfiche reader in the library. I’m so lucky to be doing this job as it brings an enormous amount of satisfaction to know that you can make a difference to other people’s lives like this.”

Welsh Libraries Champion Ruth Jones recently met up with Cat at Cardiff Central Library: “I found it really interesting to meet Cat and learn more about the services available in the library. The staff really do play such an important role - helping to answer questions or locate information and also being there to have a friendly chat. Many libraries also have weekly taster sessions to help people get started with researching their family tree – I may get signed up as soon as I have some free time!”

Visit your local library and use a library computer to log onto Ancestry.com where you can access census returns for the UK, Ireland and the USA, along with a wealth of other resources – birth, marriage and deaths, passenger lists etc. A recent addition to this database includes a searchable list of all British Prisoners of War captured in Europe during World War II.

Cardiff Libraries offer a variety of resources to assist users in their local and family history research - newspapers and periodicals, photographs, maps, illustrations, directories, electoral registers, parish registers and census returns. Not to mention free internet access to scan the whole host of websites aimed at helping us discover our roots. One very popular recent addition to Cardiff Libraries on-line resources is a subscription to the British Library 19th Century Newspapers which includes the Western Mail from 1869 -1900.

Based in Cardiff Central Library, the Local Studies department houses an extensive collection of material relating to the history and geography of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. Log onto Ancestry.com or search our International Genealogical Index on microfiche for the British Isles. Compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and also known as the Mormon Index, it has birth, marriage and baptism details arranged by county (also available online). The library also hosts a regular genealogy drop-in session run by the Glamorgan Family History Society from 10 – 1 on the first Saturday of every month.

Councillor Howells, Executive Member Sport, Culture & Leisure said: “Cardiff Council have invested in the library service over recent years with refurbishments at Rhiwbina, Splott, Grangetown, Ely, Llanrumney and now with Cathays libraries. The addition of the fabulous new Central Library means that anyone can find out about their past and learn more about their ancestors.”

To find out the location and opening hours of your nearest library, visit their website at www.cardiff.gov.uk/libraries or phone Connect to Cardiff on 029 2087 2087.

Photograph: Welsh Libraries Champion Ruth Jones in Cardiff Central Library


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