Genealogy

Halifax Central Library sees growing demand for genealogy

More people are looking at their past thanks to the increasing popularity of online sources

One-on-one genealogy research session
One-on-one genealogy research session with Alison Froese.   Aya Al-Hakim

Halifax Central Library had to hire a second genealogist to keep up with its busy schedule of one-on-one research into someone’s family history and lineage.

The genealogy service at the library has been offered since the library opened in 2014, but according to Joanne McCarthy O’Leary, a professional genealogist at the library, the demand has been so high that she could not do it on her own anymore.

O’Leary oversees the in-house collection of genealogy resources. She also gives one-on-one sessions to help people trace back their lineage by looking at birth certificates, municipal records, church records and other sources.

These one-on-one sessions are offered four days a week.

“They’ve been hugely popular, we are being booked solid in advance,” said O’Leary.

She says that most people who approach her already have the basic information on their ancestry from online websites, like ancestry.ca and familysearch.org.

“In the past, you really had to be a specialist in order to find any of this information, but now with the internet, you can just look at ancestry, type in some names and find a bunch of records or clues to records,” said Alison Froese, another professional genealogist at the library.

Froese was helping a guest, Douglas Day, trace his lineage using the different tools offered online in a one-on-one session.

He only recently heard about the service and thought it was interesting.

“I was just curious on how far back I can go,” said Day.

O’Leary says even though genealogy has become easier and more accessible, online research isn’t enough.

Many old records haven’t been digitized and even some new ones that were recently released are available only in print.

This is why, as a professional genealogist, O’Leary uses different sources and not just the online sites to trace a person’s lineage – that includes checking burial sites and visiting archives.

Research options

The library isn’t the only place that offers the service for finding one’s ancestors. The Scotiabank Family History Centre at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 also provides it, and has more staff.

“Most people don’t know that we exist and they don’t find out until they come to the museum,” said Cara MacDonald, a genealogist who works at the centre.

She believes online research sources, such as ancestry.ca, is more appealing to people, especially in a tech savvy age. But she is still excited about the growing popularity of digitized records.

“The more there is a need for genealogy, the more information that will go out there, so I think it is wonderful to see that happen,” said MacDonald.