Who doesn’t have an intriguing family story about an ancestor’s past escapades, that sparks heated debates about its veracity at family gatherings? At some point, a family member may want to delve deeper into family lore to settle the arguments once and for all. When that happens, there are some great local resources to guide research into their roots, including the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library, the Sonoma County Genealogical Society, and the Santa Rosa Family History Center.
The History and Genealogy Library in downtown Santa Rosa, adjacent to the Central Library, maintains a subscription to Ancestry. com and several other research databases such as HeritageQuest Online and GenealogyBank. It also houses thousands of books on genealogy worldwide; 45,000 historical photos; Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Sonoma newspapers on microfilm from 1857 through 1969; bibliographies of family histories; and indexes to censuses, marriage records, military records, military pensions, land records, tax lists and ship passenger lists.
Also available are interlibrary loans if the local library doesn’t have a key reference material someone is seeking. “We have relationships with academic, public and private libraries across the country. I’ve even received things from the Library of Congress,” said Katherine Rinehart, Manager of the History and Genealogy Library.
But perhaps the greatest asset offered by the History and Genealogy Library is the one-on-one instruction on how to open windows to the past. “The advantage of coming here [instead of other library branches] is that we are a little more versed than other reference librarians in genealogical research,” Rinehart said. “Plus we have some fantastic volunteers from the Sonoma County Genealogical Society who come in on Wednesdays and will work with you, side by side.”
Donald Edwards, Promotions Chairperson of the Genealogical Society’s Board of Directors, used his genealogical detective skills to shed some light on his own lineage. Edwards discovered his family patriarch Moses Manning, who at age 55 enlisted in the Revolutionary War militia, under General Francis Marion, also known as the “Swamp Fox.” (“The Patriot” movie is partly based on Marion’s exploits.) Moses was also the ancestor of football quarterbacks Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning.
Finding the answer to a genealogical or historical mystery often requires reaching beyond the library’s walls. Rinehart recently assisted a woman who wanted to track down more details about an account of her grandmother having died in a hurricane while vacationing in Connecticut in 1938. “We were able to find newspapers about the hurricane to get the bigger picture, but to reveal the ‘on-the-ground’ story, we referred her to a local historical society and newspaper in Connecticut. A lot of what we do is help people ferret out the next step in researching their story.”
No matter where the inquiry into family history leads, serving as a guide on the journey can be rewarding, said Edwards. “Every family has a unique story, and in the end, I feel very gratified as to how many people we have helped along their way to finding long-lost relatives or to feeling, ‘now I really know who I am.'”