Thursday, March 1, 2018

Becoming a Genealogical Detective

Senior Librarian AdrienneFormer Olney Senior Librarian Adrienne (now based at MCPL's Germantown branch) has always wanted to delve more deeply into her family’s past. Since 2006, she’s been an avid viewer of Professor Henry Louis Gates’ PBS programs, starting with African American Lives and more recently the hugely popular Finding Your Roots (MCPL has the companion books for this series). Between the two, she’s seen every single episode!

Interest in genealogical research is more popular than ever, but where to start? Back in December, Adrienne shared her story and how MCPL’s resources played a role in getting her to the next level in studying her family’s history. She also gives some tips for customers who’d like to get started.

How did you become interested in researching your family’s roots?
“I’ve always been interested, especially since my father never knew his biological parents. We didn’t know his heritage or ethnicity. That was always something that was on my mind and my dad would often talk about not knowing who his parents were.”

PBS DVD African American Lives
You mentioned your love of Professor Henry Louis Gates’ PBS programs.
“That was my inspiration. After watching 'African American Lives,' my dad did a DNA test in 2006. But back then DNA, tests didn’t tell you who your matches were within a broad database, it just told you your DNA or ethnic background. That was eye-opening and was a good experience for our family. My dad could cancel out what he’d heard and get a little closer to what his ethnicity was.”

What came next? We understand you had to wait for the census records to be released.
“Given the timing of everything I had to wait until 2012 to find the Census Records for 1940. Based on my dad’s age and what he knew about his birth mother, 1940 was the year she would show up in the census. So in 2012, I looked at those results and they confirmed what we already knew.

The US Censuses [per decade] are released every 72 years. I had a name, a state and a rough age.  Based on those things you can usually find someone, I just had to wait until those records were available. Even before 2012, I’d gone to city hall in the city my birth grandmother was said to have been born in and we couldn’t find anything. We did our best, but the census records were the confirmation we needed.

After we found the census record, I kind of sat on the information for a couple of years. We didn’t really pursue it more.“

Then Professor Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” started…
PBS Video Finding Your Roots
“About two years ago is when-- I guess it was from watching “Finding Your Roots” I was inspired again! I started looking at MCPL’s resources. I looked in Heritage Quest to confirm the census records again, and then I also used MCPL’s obituary research tool. After I found some family members, I also looked at my maternal grandmother’s parents, I kept going back as far I could, looking in census records to find out where their family originated. I hit a wall in the 1840s so I couldn’t find anything before then.”

That’s amazing you were able to go back to the mid-1800s! What other tools did you use?
“Eventually we used social media. My brother went on Facebook and started looking at the names of family members. He searched for people in the geographical area where the family lived, based on the obituaries. We started to find family members.

Screenshot from the Heritage Quest genealogy database
So we used a lot of technology. Without the internet, it wouldn’t have been possible. With social media, MCPL resources, search engines, we were able to find a lot of information and put the pieces together. Using the obituary data and Heritage Quest, we used the names from the 1940 census and then we went back to the 1930s and looked at some of the names, then the 1920s and kept going back to the 1860. They didn’t count slaves in the censuses, so we started to see our other family names after 1870.”

Were you able to connect with family members?
“When my brother reached out on Facebook, we were able to connect with some of them. Some family members weren’t so receptive and didn’t want to hear about the story of how we were related. But we did happen to connect to one family member, my father’s cousin, who was very open and asked questions and did the research to confirm that the facts we had were correct and we were probably related. After that, we did a DNA test, Family Tree DNA. We were able to take 2 people’s DNA and compare them to see if there are matches between them. It tells you how they closely you’re related, if you’re first cousins, second cousins, aunt, uncle, etc. We did that with one of my dad’s aunts and it was a match, so that was the confirmation our family needed. We only met them a year and a half ago.”

Wow, that must have been a powerful experience.
“Yes. We’ve met with some of the other family members independently. We went down to Virginia about a year and a half ago. And I did a DNA test too and my dad’s aunt came up as a match for me too. She’s older but she’s very spunky and lively!

What’s difficult is that my dad’s mother didn’t talk a lot, so she didn’t ever tell anyone my dad existed. They didn’t know she had a child. She didn’t have other children and never married, so they didn’t know any of this. She lived in New York City from 18 or 19 until she was in her 70s, so they didn’t keep in touch with her for many years. She moved back when she got older and they all re-connected.

She passed away in October 2015 before we got to meet her, just months before we found the family, so she never got to meet my dad. The irony is we were only able to confirm our connection to her through her obituary because it listed her life story. In her obituary, it said she had lived in New York City, where my dad was born, and had lived there for this many years, so that’s how we actually put together that this was her. So the obituary research was bittersweet because it proved that we found her. Everything lined up with her life story and my dad’s story. Unfortunately it was in her obituary so it meant she was no longer alive.”

How heartbreaking, that’s devastating... how tough for your family.
“But there were also some surprises. I found out that we have Puerto Rican heritage. We still haven’t identified my father’s father yet, and that’s something I’m working on now. We found out my father is of Puerto Rican descent, so that’s really cool. My dad grew up in New York City, he was born in Manhattan and lived in Queens, so he was around a lot of diverse people. They would always say, “You look Puerto Rican!” His Puerto Rican friends would say, “Oh, you’re one of us.” But he didn’t know, so he didn’t really identify as Puerto Rican and he wasn’t raised as Puerto Rican. We’re still looking into who his father was and where he was from. We found lots of DNA matches in the database. The majority of my family is from Puerto Rico, but we don’t know beyond that.”

Thanks for sharing so much about your family’s genealogical journey. What’s next? What would Henry Louis Gates do?
“We need to do the ‘Y chromosome’ for my dad and my brothers. You can do it on FamilyTreeDNA. We need to go find the Y chromosome and then where it and the family name come from. Once we do that we’ll be on such a good path; I can’t do it because I have ‘X’ but I think my brother and dad would be open to it. That’s what Henry Louis Gates would do!

The process is ongoing, but finding his mother’s family was a lot. We’re wanting to do more, but life gets in the way, it takes time, etc., but this is something we’re definitely going to do next. I’ve already had someone contact me asking if I knew someone they were looking for because we’re related, because you have a shared chromosome it’s like you’re family. It makes the world smaller, but you don’t want to give false hope. There are still a lot of questions that remain. It’s not easy, there is so much more, so many more mysteries.”

There will always be more questions so don’t get discouraged. Perhaps this is a good place to end. And finally, what are some tips you have for customers just getting started?
“You have to be emotionally aware that it’s hard work and you have to be strong, because you could be disappointed. And also, reaching out to people, they may not want to talk to you, so you have to be prepared to get some resistance and it may hurt a little. Be sensitive to others, even in your own family, because they may not like that you’re doing it. Not only that people you don’t know may want to reach out, but your family may feel uncomfortable.

Genealogy books
Talk with a librarian. MCPL has great resources. You can pay for research but MCPL’s resources are free. It’s a good starting point. Obituaries, censuses, etc. That’s what started part of my search. You can go to Personally I like our resources because they’re easier to navigate. Heritage Quest is set up nicely and I like the library’s interface. Obituary research is under newspaper databases. For example, the Washington Post can be found under the National Newspapers Premier database.”

Thank you Adrienne, for sharing so much of your story! It was fascinating and very moving. I’m sure customers will be inspired to take some first steps in starting their own family research.

Book cover for Genealogy for Dummies

In addition to HeritageQuest and a link to the National Archives, MCPL’s genealogy resources include:
  • Polk’s City Directories for Rockville, Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, and other neighborhoods, telephone directories for Montgomery County, church records on microfilm, and more at Rockville Memorial Library
  • Obituary research from national newspapers

And don't forget our books/e-book collection!

Did you know?
According to the "72-Year Rule," the National Archives releases census records to the general public 72 years after Census Day. As a result, the 1930 census records were released April 1, 2002, and the 1940 records were released April 2, 2012. The 1950 census records will be released in April 2022.

Image from the National Archives website

Select recent newspaper articles
They Considered Themselves White, but DNA Tests Told a More Complex Story (Feb 6, 2018; Washington Post)

What You're Giving Away with Those Home DNA Tests (Nov 30, 2017; NBC News)

With a Simple DNA Test, Family Histories are Rewritten (Aug 28, 2017; New York Times)

Who Was She? A DNA Test Only Opened New Mysteries (July 27, 2017; Washington Post)
Olney Library is planning a genealogy workshop in the coming months. Please check our Calendar of Events or call 240-773-9545 to find out when it has been scheduled. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Afternoon Delight" at Olney Library (Starland Vocal Band, 1976)

Open Mic performers and friends
Open Mic performers and friends

More than 50 customers stopped by for the event
More than 50 customers stopped by
Despite record-breaking cold temperatures and several cancellations due to illness, Olney Library still managed to hold its 1970s and 80s Open Mic during the first weekend of 2018. Performers of all ages tested out their vocal chops with classics from the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Simon & Garfunkel, the Carpenters, Janis Joplin, and Barbra Streisand, as well as 80s hits by Cyndi Lauper, Bonnie Tyler, and Gary Numan. An unforgettable show was put on by Olney staffer Lady Theresa, who wowed audiences with her renditions of “I Say a Little Prayer” and Saving All My Love for You” with a near-scandalous climax. And with the singalong portion of the program, everyone had a chance to be part of the action and get their groove on!

Check out all the videos and photos here.

Fans voting for their favorite songs
Fans voted for their favorite songs
In the run-up to the event, Olney Library created a colorful display that pitted the 1970s against the 1980s and read, “We love them both, but which is your favorite decade?” The display featured eye-catching images of bands, fashion, movies, books, CDs, and DVDs from both eras. More than 50 customers voted for their favorite songs/bands by decade, and… The winner was the 1970s. Top mentions were Bruce Springsteen; the Jackson Five; Earth, Wind & Fire; Queen; David Bowie; ABBA; and anything disco. Perhaps it’s true, the 70s’ music scene was a lot more eclectic and electrifying!

Woman holding up two small vinyl records
A "Name that Tune" winner
Part of the program was a “Name that Tune” quiz on songs from each decade, and we were awe-struck by how quickly people could name a song, often by the first few opening notes! All 80+ songs were downloaded from MCPL’s Freegal database. Did you know Freegal allows customers to download 5 songs per week for free? The .mp3 files are yours to keep forever, and you can play them on all your devices. 

A man and woman singing and playing guitars
The Campbells rocked the house with
Bon Jovi, Bob Marley & Elton John
And finally, if you’re inspired to come to our next Open Mic, but want to brush up on your vocal skills or guitar playing, don’t forget MCPL’s awesome database, ArtistWorks. Professional, award-winning musicians lead self-paced online courses in a range of instruments and styles, including rock, classical, jazz and bluegrass, from beginner to advanced levels, all for free.

Attendees had a blast and are already asking when the next Open Mic will be held, so check back on MCPL’s website or call Olney at 240-773-9545 to learn more. We hope to see you soon! Special thanks to the Friends of the Library, Olney Chapter, for sponsoring this event.

Four people, some playing guitars, some singing and one with a tamborine
Fran, Head of Children's Services at Aspen Hill Library,
 and Wendy, Olney volunteer, sang "La Bamba" from the 1987 movie

Friday, December 1, 2017

Workforce Development @ Work

Do you have professional aspirations or goals you’re trying to reach? If so, stop by Olney Library to get started! Did you know Montgomery County Public Libraries has a Jobs and Careers guide on our website that can serve as an excellent starting point for information, education and training? Plus, we have loads of books, CD-books, and digital resources that can help you explore careers, improve skills and help you on a new professional path. Don’t wait to get started!

To further inspire you, we wanted to share stories from some of our superstar customers who’ve used MCPL facilities and resources to help fulfill education goals, find jobs or pivot to new careers. While we see thousands of customers each week, these Olney customers are among the standouts who have taken the initiative to develop new skills and are on the path to even greater achievements.

Ms. Simone standing next to an Olney Librarian who is seated at a computer
Simone (left, standing)
with Olney Librarian Valarie Hoover
Ms. Simone 
We used to see Simone every week like clockwork, working with a math tutor in one of Olney’s collaboration rooms. She came each week, twice a week, for more than a year. Simone was incredibly disciplined and seemingly never missed a session. Then, one day, we stopped seeing the two of them and assumed she had finished her course.

A few months later, Simone stopped by with her granddaughter with a huge smile on her face, radiating excitement. She said, “I passed my GED!” Now that she’s received her high school diploma, Simone has continued to take math classes at the local community college. Library staff have been more than happy to help her find the books and resources she’s looking for. Congratulations Simone, on a job well done and continued academic success!

Ms. Ronnie
Ms Ronnie using a keyboard and iPad
Learning tips on the iPad
Over the years Ronnie has worked a variety of jobs, from teacher’s aide to computerizing books at the Library of Congress. But to stay competitive she felt she needed to refresh her computer skills. So Ronnie not only enrolled in MCPL/Senior Planet’s iPad course for older adults at Olney, she took a computer basics course at Germantown at the same time. Talk about dedication!

To complement her new skills, Ronnie recently finished a workshop at Olney, Applying for Jobs in Montgomery County, with a recruiter from the County’s Office of Human Resources. She’s currently finessing her resumé and will be receiving assistance from WorkSource Montgomery career specialists at Rockville Library. And now that she’s gained confidence in her computer skills, Ronnie is the proud owner of a new laptop. Great job, Ronnie! Given your many accomplishments, we know you'll continue to succeed in all you set your mind to! 

Mr. Henry
Mr Henry smiling while holding an open book.
Henry is always ready to
learn something new
Henry hails from the beautiful West African country of Liberia, where he had a long career in education and social services. When he first arrived at Olney Library, he was a computer newbie. But with help from library staff and his fellow church members, often on a daily basis, Henry learned how to use Microsoft Word like a pro, then graduated to online education sites. He became adept at using MCPL resources to practice driving tests and learn other skills.

Eventually Henry not only applied for and found local part-time jobs but he also found volunteer opportunities in his area of expertise, using MCPL’s public computers. Perhaps the biggest testament to his success (and newly busy schedule) is the fact that we see him less often than in the past! Three cheers for Henry! You are the perfect example of a customer who, with a little guidance, parlayed your learning to a new level of rewarding professional and personal experiences.

Stop by MCPL’s Jobs and Careers Guide, which includes local help for those who are unemployed,
Waving yellow and blue ribbons above the words "LearningExpress Library"
job hunting skills, education and training, and resources en español. MCPL also offers online Education Resources, such as Career Online High School, an accredited, non-traditional online high school diploma program, and the Learning Express Library, MCPL’s newest database with thousands of online tutorials, practice tests, and e-books to help customers of all ages.

Learn more about Olney Library’s programs and events by visiting our Calendar of Events.

Upcoming computer workshops at Olney include (registration required):

Stop by for One-on-One Computer Tutoring from 4 to 5:15 pm on these upcoming Mondays (sign up begins at 3:15):

  • Monday, December 11
  • Monday, January 22

MCPL is also partnering with Senior Planet/OATS to provide computer and iPad courses. Visit the Senior Planet Montgomery website to learn when new classes are starting in 2018!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Join us for Science Saturdays at Olney Library!

Adult and child use littleBitsWith all the new technologies and apps being developed these days, it has never been easier to learn about intriguing topics in science! Olney Library is offering free, hands-on workshops that will help kids explore basic concepts in engineering, coding, forensics, and chemistry. We will have mini-robots and other technologies available for kids to tinker with… sign up so your children can express their creativity while learning science!

Upcoming Science Saturday events are:

Colorful Chemistry October 21, 2 pm
This set of experiments is great for young scientists and artists! Students will separate color marker inks, use special plastic beads to test for UV rays, and test the pH of household liquids using a color-changing indicator. Ages 7-14. Please register online. Limited to 25 participants. Sponsored by Friends of the Library, Olney Chapter.

Two kids build a tower with red cups
Olney Cup ChallengeNovember 11, 4 pm
Back by popular demand: this activity never fails to generate excitement and lots of shrieks as mighty towers tumble over! Build with cups and compete to build the tallest cup tower you can. Ages 6 and up. Sponsored by Friends of the Library, Olney Chapter.

Making Recycled Paper November 18, 2 pm
This program focuses on the importance of recycling for the benefit of the environment. Kids will explore the properties of plants used to make paper, along with the history of the paper-making process. Students will use shredded paper to make pulp and form new sheets of paper. Ages 7-14. Please register online. Limited to 25 participants. Sponsored by Friends of the Library, Olney Chapter.

Child plays with a Code-a-PillarPlay and Learn Coding with Code-a-PillarNovember 25, 10:30 am
Kids will learn about coding in a fun way while playing with Code-a-pillar and Cubetto learning toys! You must register online. Ages 5-8 only. Limited to 9 participants.

Our first two successful Science Saturday events were:
Coding with Ozobots (Oct 7) — Children let their imaginations soar by designing complex ‘tracks’ for Ozobot robots to follow, while adding ‘codes’ to control how fast they moved and enable other tricks like spinning. Kids (and adults) were having so much fun they weren’t ready to leave when the workshop was over. One young coder said, “I love this!”

Mother and son hold up a sheet with his fingerprints
Crime Scene Investigation (Sept 16) — Children learned how to use science to reveal clues not easily seen by the human eye! This fascinating program led students through an investigation of techniques used by professional crime scene investigators such as detecting fingerprints, observational skills, and unknown liquid and fiber identification.

Check out recent photos and videos here!

Three children code with OzobotsA child codes with an Ozobot

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It Was 50 Years Ago Today - Sgt. Pepper, The "Beatles Open Mic," and More!

“It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. They’ve been going in and out of style, but they’re guaranteed to raise a smile. So may I introduce to you, the act you’ve known for all these years. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…”

Update (9/1): Check out the photos and video clips from our August 19 Beatles Open Mic event!

Olney Beatles Open Mic event
Pictures and video from the Beatles Open Mic event
 Whether you’re a diehard fan who caught the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 or just enjoy their songs, please join Olney Library for a special event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We are holding a “Beatles Open Mic” on Saturday, August 19, starting at 3 PM. Register today! Come with your voice and enthusiasm-- sing solo, duos, or in family or friend groups! (Instruments optional.) We’ll start with a Beatles trivia quiz to test your knowledge; prizes to be awarded. If you prefer not to sing, feel free to stop by for an afternoon of songs, fun and memories. Hope to see you there!

So what was going on in the world when Sgt. Pepper’s was released, and why was it considered a masterpiece?

Book cover for The Sixties: The Decade that Changed the World
It was 1967, the height of the heady and tumultuous ‘60s. The U.S. was more than a decade into the Vietnam War. Many at home protested the war and racial discrimination. At the same time, important milestones were being reached. The landmark Loving v. Virginia decision found bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Twenty year old Kathy Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon.

In the midst of this upheaval (and likely because of it), artistic
countercultures flourished and sparked new revolutions in art, music and literature. (Books published that year included One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Márquez; The Outsiders by Hinton; and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Konigsburg.) 1967 was also the infamous “Summer of Love,” where tens of thousands of young people descended on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. The nearby Monterey Pop Festival saw singular performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. ‘Hippies’ sought refuge and escapism in love, art, and drugs.

With this backdrop the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, considered the greatest rock and roll album of all time by Rolling Stone. From 1964 on, the Beatles had dominated US and global music charts, but in 3 short years there were already signs that fame and fortune had taken a toll on its members. The Beatles decided to give up touring and pursue individual projects, seeking new direction and musical expression.

Sgt. Pepper’s was the brainchild of Paul McCartney. Advances in
technology allowed the Beatles to experiment with creative recording techniques not possible before that time. The album is also credited as being one of the first ‘concept’ albums, revolving around an alter-ego Edwardian brass band and use of orchestras, Indian instruments, and unusual sound effects. But perhaps what made the album so revolutionary was the songwriting, at once a throwback to earlier times while also drawing on and transcending the psychedelic mood of that turbulent era. Later rock albums would be held up against the standard set by the Beatles on this extraordinary recording. Sgt. Pepper’s cemented the Beatles’ legendary status as the preeminent rock band of its time, perhaps of all time.

Check out videos of Olney staff preparing for the "Beatles Open Mic!"

OL Beatles Open Mic - OL's Fab Four! She Loves You

OL Beatles Open Mic rehearsal1 - When I'm 64