January 14, 2010

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy - City Directories

Amy Coffin from We Tree is challenging bloggers with her "52 Weeks to Better Genealogy" idea for 2010.  The first challenge is to visit one's public library, check out the genealogy section or whatever section of the library that might well be useful in one's research.

I'll not be going to my library at this time as I've already been many times but I've decided to blog about it to help people realize the wealth of information available at their public libraries.

Personally, I do not believe that we can live without belonging to a good genealogical society with a good deal of holdings if those holdings contain information for whatever area of research we are doing.  In my case, I am a member of the American-Canadian Genealogical Society of Manchester, New Hampshire.  I have been a member of the now defunct Acadian Cultural Society of Fitchburg as well as the Lawrence, Ma Genealogy Group that used to meet at the Immigrant Archives Essex Building in Lawrence.

The holdings at ACGS helped me to do quite a bit of research on my Acadian and French-Canadian heritage but  no society holds absolutely everything that you need in your research.  What of your immigrant relatives?  In my case, my great grandparents on my mother's side (Levesque) from Quebec were the first to come to Lawrence in the early 1880s.  Next my LeBlanc grandparents who first went to New Bedford, Ma also in early 1880s where my father was born eventually made their way to Lawrence.  That being the case, early on in my research, I decided to visit the Lawrence Public Library.

The old Lawrence Public Library
where I used to go as a child

To my amazement at that time, the Lawrence Public Library still had available the hard bound City Directories dating back to the early 1800s.  What a great find!  I returned to the library many times so as to scour those directories and find as much information about my relatives/ancestors that could be found in those directories.

One interesting find was an ad at the back of some directories stating that my grandmother Odille Doiron was a "clairvoyant" - fortune teller - in the vernacular.  My father used to say that his mother was a fortune teller but I thought he was just kidding.  Well there it was in black and white.  What I found particularly amazing about this was that especially back then, the catholic church frowned on fortune telling and the like.  I would have expected my grandmother to be condemned by the local priests but as I better understood the situation of my father's family, the family was very poor.  It was more important to feed her family than to be afraid of any condemnation.  A cousin I met some years ago told me that her father (my father's brother Albert) once told her they were so very poor that he ran away from home.  So poor that they rented out a room and she did her fortune telling - to put food on the table.  I often wonder how, with that many children, they even  had a room to rent.

My grandfather Damien LeBlanc married twice.  His first wife died right after giving birth to their ninth child.  Two died as young children, leaving seven.  Damien had 8 more children with my grandmother  Odille.  When they came to Massachusetts, some were old enough to remain in New Brunswick and though I'm not certain, I think some did (still searching).  In any event, it could not have been easy to feed and clothe such a large family.

The other thing the city directories told me was where various family members had lived in Lawrence.  It was interesting to see where my great grandparents had lived in Lawrence when they first arrived as well as where their children lived once married.  For the most part, families continued to live in same neighborhoods.  The exceptions were few.  The directories also give a sense of when our relatives arrived and their absence from the directories, a lead as to when they died.

My grandmother Odille disappeared from the directories in 1909 - she died in May of that year and I found only my grandfather Damien living with his son Edmond.

The plus to where everyone lived is that I could go to see those places.  On my mother's side I did not have to do that.  Everyone pretty much stayed put.  I grew up in the same general area so I knew where all the streets were where they had lived.

In the case of my LeBlanc grandparents, I did not know where they had lived as I had never known them.  They died when my father was still young.  The city directories told me where they had been living.  When I went to look, I could not believe they lived over a store that became very well known in Lawrence - Louis Pearl's - this store was situation right at the end of Lawrence's famous "Theatre Row" depicted on postcards that I  have previously blogged about.  I was totally amazed at the realization.  How many times my mother had taken me to Louis Pearl's store when she would take me to the movies. She used to popped in three to buy cashews.  I just could not believe they had lived above this store!

Beyond city directories, I had also found interesting genealogy books donated by various people regarding their own family history - to my great joy I found a set of Bona Arsenault's books "Histoire et Genealogie des Acadiens".  It was pretty much my first exposure to Acadian genealogy.  Of course, today we are aware of the many errors in Bona's books but one has to admit that it was a monumental work accomplished back then.  Today we know that the colossal work of the Dictrionnaire généalogique des familles acadiennes by Stephen A. White is the best Acadian reference and research book today.

Another plus in rumaging through the stacks is that I became aware of a book entitled Historical Sketches of Andover, Massachusetts by Sarah Loring Bailey Published in 1880.  This book contains some information about  some Acadians who had been exiled to North Andover in 1755.  Once aware of this book, I went to the Andover Public Library (a town neighboring Lawrence) to look at that book.  As fate would have it, the Andover Historical Society had republished that book.  I zipped over to the Andover Historical Society just down the street from the library and they had *one* book left - yes, I purchased it.

Lawrence Public Library Special Collections

At all public libraries, there is a "Special Collections" department.  The Lawrence Public Library's Special Collections contains an array of early published newspapers from all the ethnic groups that settled in the city.  There were a couple of  French newspapers published by Dr. Janson de LaPalme.  I can never forget his name as he used to visit our classrooms when we were children to talk about our French-Canadian heritage and to encourage our families to purchase copies of his newspaper(s).

This is but a glimpse of what you can find at a public library.  As for the city directories at the Lawrence Public Library:  when I was going through them they were beginning to fall apart.  Since my research in them, they have been copied on microfilm.  That is a good thing but I assure you that it was much easier to go through the books than to search through microfilm.

Here is a bit of what the Lawrence Public Library has for researchers to dig into:

City directories from 1847 to the present (1847-1960 on microfilm)
Andover/North Andover town directories (1888-1953)
Methuen town directories (1915-1954)
Federal Census for Lawrence, 1850, 1860, 1870 (index), 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 (on microfilm)
37 titles of newspapers (on microfilm)
Several hundred published family histories
Lawrence Street lists from 1886 – present
Atlases 1875, 1895, 1896, 1906, 1926
Maps of Lawrence and [...]

Click here to view a video of the 
Lawrence, Massachusetts Public Library 

Look for next week's edition of "52 Weeks to Better Genealogy".

All Rights Reserved
Lucie's Legacy
Lucie LeBlanc Consentino


Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

Thank you for sharing a bit about your library!

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Hi Amy,

It is every interesting to take inventory on everything that was available to me at the Lawrence Public Library. It begs that I make another visit soon! ;o)

Barbara Poole said...

Hi Lucie,

I enjoyed this reminder about the Lawrence Library. Haven't been there in years, nor the city for that matter! But I recall that I was impressed back then. Thanks for the heads up.

Barbara Poole said...

Hi Lucie,

I enjoyed this reminder about the Lawrence Library. Haven't been there in years, nor the city for that matter! But I recall that I was impressed back then. Thanks for the heads up.