Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Vist to the Midwest Genealogy Center of the Mid-Continent Public Library

Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri
The main focus of our trip last week to Missouri was not a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center of the Mid-Continent Public Library. Rather it was for us (my sister and I) to drive my mother to her eldest granddaughter's house to meet the newest member of the family -- a great grandson who now makes three in that generation.

But while there (after an eleven or so hour drive) why not visit the library since it is less than thirty minutes away in Independence, Missouri? We, as genealogists, would be crazy to pass up that opportunity, right?

Like for our trip to the Allen County Public Library the key is to plan ahead.
MCPL Home Page

Begin with the Library's Website

The Mid-Continent Public Library's website is the place to start your planning. From the library's homepage click on the "Genealogy" tab to get to the page for the Midwest Genealogy Center page. Besides the About, Directions and Hours, there is information for beginners in genealogy/family research that covers what to look for and a variety of family history forms to download.
The Genealogy Center Page

The Digital Collections contains links to "Jackson County and Kansas City Plat books" and "Digitized Books." The Mid-Continent Public Library-Midwest Genealogy Center (MCPL-MGC) actually participates in the FamilySearch Family History Books Collection so this link takes you there.

The Archival Collections takes you to a page with a variety of finding aids and indexes for the library's archival collection that focuses on Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri. So if you have ancestors in these areas it seems a great place to check out.

I don't have ancestors in those counties. In fact, I maybe have a couple really distant collateral relatives in Missouri ... like count on one hand with plenty of fingers left over. So why did we take the time to visit this library? For all the other stuff they have. Read on.

In my opinion, the main links of importance to your planning are the Library's Catalog (located in the tabs at the top of the page) and categorized lists of online databases available at the library located (kind of hidden) under Related Information.

MCPL-MGC's Library Catalog. While the Library's Catalog does not have a cute name, it does have some helpful features like the ability to create a list -- think shopping list -- of the books you want to explore.

Advanced Search
Remember to search the catalog like you would for any other genealogy library visit. Do searches using your Surnames of interest. Do searches using your locations of interest remembering to try all types (County, Town/Township, City/Village) of locations. Make your fingers walk the book shelves before you even enter the building. Remember when doing a county search to include the state.

Once at the catalog page, I suggest clicking on the Library Catalog Advanced Search. Here you can empower your search a bit more. You can limit your search to "Genealogy Materials." You have the option to search by key words or exact phrase, tell it not to show you items with specific words, or search by title, author, or subject.

Check the box for items of interest.
As you scan the results page, check the box to the left of each item you are interested in looking at when at the library. Before you move to the next results page, click the "Select an Action" button and choose one of the following: Add to My Lists, Email, Text it to Me, or Print. Now if you just print, what ever you selected on this page prints together. But if you select Add to My Lists, you can create a shopping list by subject (i.e. all items of interest regarding Dutchess County, New York, or all items of interest for the surname Dunham.)

When you are done selecting items for the subject, click on the My Lists at the top of the webpage. After selecting everything in the Temporary My List you can print or email the whole list at one time. After that is done, delete the items and perform a new search to create a new shopping list. You do not have to log in to use the My Lists feature. If you are fortunate to have a library card, you could save your various subject lists.
Save items to My Lists

So what were my lists like? I went to a very large genealogy library in Missouri and I looked at vast number of books (usually I prefer original records) on: Dutchess County, New York; Albany County, New York; Greene County, New York; Bristol County, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; York County, Ontario; Catahoula, Louisiana; Bedfordshire, England; Hertfordshire, England; and a few other places. The closest we came to Missouri was my sister looking at a couple counties in Oklahoma. Now some of these books I have not seen before. Some I may have seen before but I wanted to look for names discovered since that last time I looked at the book. I used these "My Lists" to keep track of: if I looked at the item, what I looked for and the results. I'll transfer that information to an overall list later.
My Lists button at top of page.

Looking for a periodical? Check out the Midwest Genealogy Center Periodical Collection to see if they have the one you seek or one that covers the area/surname you are researching. The list is sorted in several ways for your convenience.  The link to this on the Genealogy page is located under Related Information.

My Lists
Print or Email My Lists

The Databases. The vast quantity of these databases makes it a jewel of this library. Most libraries have a few, this library has a ton. They have been organized in several ways so a particular database may appear on more than one list. Online Database Categories of interest to genealogists include: Genealogy Databases, US History Databases, World History Databases, Newspaper Databases, and Geography Databases.

You can click on the different databases to learn what each contains that may be of interest to you during your visit to the library. For those that don't give much indication, usually a Google search can locate a listing of each service's particular offerings.

Guest Pass. I spent sometime in the various newspaper databases that I do not normally have access to through my libraries or paid subscriptions. Visitors to the Midwest Genealogy Center, who are not residents with library cards, can get a guest pass good for that day at the MGC. (See the main desk.) This is needed to use the computers and it gets you 60 minutes of time on the computer. Don't forget to log out to stop your minutes. There are certain computers designated for genealogy research though there is a computer room for residents doing other computer/internet work.

Years back when the internet was moving from message boards and mail lists to what today is more subscription websites with digitized content, the MCPL-MGC used to sell library cards to non-residents through the postal mail. A few years ago this practice stopped but those who had the card already were "grandfathered in." Lucky those people who have access to this online jewel.

Research Card. But, if you are there physically visiting the Mid-Continent Public Library's Midwest Genealogy Center, non-area residents can purchase a Research Card for $20 that is good for six-months and it gets you off-site access to all of the online databases (except Ancestry and Fold3.) Though the Research Card is non-renewable, if you visit again in person you can purchase another Research Card. Too bad Missouri is so far away for me. But I will be happily playing with these databases until the end of the year.
First view of the Midwest Genealogy Center

The Service and Information Desk

At the Library

Welcome Package and My Lists
Parking is plentiful at the library and there is no charge. The building itself is HUGE! Don't forget to stop by the main desk on your right-hand side once you enter the main floor. Sign the visitor log and if it is your first visit let them know so you receive a welcome package. It contains a map of each floor so you can see where things are located -- including restrooms. There is an eating area on the first floor near the entrance so you can brown bag your lunch (and dinner?) if you want. There are eating establishments in the area but not real close.

Reading Tables next to Copy Area
Cash, Card or USB Drive. There are a variety of ways to make copies ... depending on what you are copying. If you are using microfilm/microfiche, unfortunately, the only way to make a copy is to make a paper copy. These machines have not gone digital yet. And to make a paper copy, you need to get a copy card. There is no charge for the card itself and there are two dispensers in the microform room to add value to the card. (When I found this out I suggested they look at the film/fiche scanners that the Archives of Ontario uses -- those are sweet.)

Now for books, etc., there are photocopiers with two ways to use them. Insert coin (sorry, I did not look to see how much) and get a paper copy. But insert a USB drive into the same machine and get a free digital scan of your item.

Also, available for use (for free) at the MCPL-MGC, is a Zeta Overhead Book Copy and Scan System. This is what we used. It also requires a USB drive. Once you understand the "what-to-dos" of how to scan, it is fast and easy. The advantage of the book scan system over the photocopier scan is that you do not have to flip your book over face down then pick it up to turn the page then flip it back over to scan the next page. You simply place the book and level it on the floating base, lay the clear Plexiglas panel on top of the pages, use the touch pad to scan, lift the clear plastic panel, flip the page and replace it on top of the book and press scan. Repeat as necessary.

Zeta Book Copy and Scan System by Zeutschel
The book scan system offered many choices for file type (pdf, tiff, jpg, etc.) and three DPI resolutions (200, 300, and 600.) The book scan system worked wonderfully though we did freeze it at one point -- copies from many books in one session may have warmed it up too much. But nothing was lost because we were telling it to save the page/file directly after scanning it and not waiting for it to save the file when we pressed the scan button for the next page. Thankfully we did it that way though if we had done it the other way, we would have only lost one page (the last one scanned before the freeze). Another advantage of the book scan system is that it scans both pages of the book as separate files at the same time instead of both as one file.

Patron Baskets
Reading Tables. There are plenty of small (four person) reading tables throughout the library. But each table only has two chairs. If you have a party of three and all want to share a small table, don't be afraid to ask someone at another table if you can borrow a chair. We visited the library twice, once on Tuesday (11 a.m. - 5 p.m.) with just my sister and I; and once on Friday (9 a.m. - 3 p.m.) with all three of us. Tuesday was quite busy with a bus group from the Iowa State Genealogy Society. While Friday it was pretty close to empty. So it is going to vary day-to-day what you find crowd-wise.

Book Carts. The 411 on the book carts at this library is this: Black Metal Book Carts are the book return carts. They are located at the ends of many of the aisles of shelves. MCPL-MGC patrons have the option of using shopping baskets to carry their selections from shelf to table. There are also a few "shopping carts" to roll around two baskets for your convenience. On Tuesday available baskets and carts were scarce and black metal book carts were stacked full all over the library. On Friday there were many baskets/carts to choose from and lots of black carts with available space. Both days of our visit were productive.
View from top of stairs at Midwest Genealogy Center

Second Floor view of Midwest Genealogy Center

Second Floor view of Midwest Genealogy Center

Second Floor view of Midwest Genealogy Center
Library Staff. Though we really did not need much help, the interactions that we did have with the staff were all positive and friendly.

Summing it Up

We got A LOT looked at and checked off our To-Do Lists for this library. Now comes the sit down and review what we found and enter the information. Desk work is not always as fun as research work unfortunately.

So is this library a must visit if you don't have Missouri ancestors? That depends.

Judge for yourself by what you find in the library's catalog and the library's distance from you. Like I said at the beginning of this post, our purpose for the trip was to see family and since the library was close we made a point to visit it. Yes, we might have found some of those items at a closer library (like Allen County Public Library) but likely not at our home town/state library since we looked at resources for states other than our own.

On our Friday visit, I overheard a couple talking to a librarian (after seeking help) that the library was midway between their home and their travel destination so they decided to stop in and check out the resources. That is one way to make the visit. (Since their visit was very short, they were taking the team effort approach: she did the seeking in the books and he did the scanning of the finds.)

A Side Note With a Bit of Funny

For this long drive to territories unknown we used a combination of directional aids to help us. We had our Google Map directions printed out with maps. We had an early TomTom GPS Directional Device. We had up-to-date, old-fashioned folded paper AAA maps of each state we would drive through. None of these aids were without problems.

  • Google and TomTom could not agree which route was the fastest route. So TomTom would get mad at us -- I kid you not. I realized it would have been better to make sure the laptop we had with us had the software installed where we could better tweak the routes ahead of time rather than just rely on the device itself and hope recalculate would magically match Google. Bringing TomTom was a last minute, oh yeah we should take this with us thought.
  • Part way through the trip I realized that when printing the Google Map directions something strange had happened. The printout of the directions from the Hotel to the Destination had the correct text but the maps were for the Destination to the Hotel -- they didn't go with each other. (And no I did not mix up the pages, this mismatch was on the same piece of paper.) The appearance of the directions seemed different than in the past so I think Google did an update to its Map/Directions feature and it still has some bugs. Also the maps for the directions (that were correct) were not as good as in the past.
  • Old-fashioned folded paper maps worked good when the manual navigator knew for sure our present location. Thank you TomTom for at least knowing that aside from the couple times it said we were in the corn field next to the road. (Lost GPS signal maybe?)

In the end, we relied on all three aids to guide us which is probably why TomTom got mad. Now this might have been really annoying with the standard voice that comes with TomTom, but over a year ago I installed a free voice as a joke (the device belongs to my sister). Since I forgot TomTom on our trip to Ontario the year before this was the first time the voice made "an appearance." The voice I selected was that of a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. So now imagine that Cylon voice announcing the directions as you drive. I knew I was really in trouble (a.k.a. not going where it told me) when Cylon TomTom announced that "colonial vipers were circling, take evasive action."

But Cylon TomTom had us really laughing when it kept insisting that I turn right ... at the Land Fill. I asked my sister and mother, "Is the Cylon trying to ditch US at the dump or Itself?" Needless to say, I didn't listen -- again -- and eventually a long way up the road Cylon TomTom shut up, recalculated and figured out which way were were headed home.

If you are traveling, have a safe trip and don't listen to every direction a Cylon gives you.