A Hazard of Genealogical Research


I went to the New England Historic Genealogical Society Library for the first time tonight.

I left with an injury—probably the first injury that I have ever sustained at a library.

I did some research beforehand and wrote down the call numbers of two books the library owns on the history of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. Both sides of my family come from generations of central Pennsylvanians. From what I know from oral history, census records, and such, my people are a humble people. Coal miners, lumbermen, and business owners.

I walked in to the library with the hope of finding something in these books about someone in my family. I found the first book. It hadn’t been taken off the shelf in a while; it kind of stuck to the shelf as I yanked it out. Then I found the second book. I gasped when I saw it. The second book was huge. And old. So old that it had a string around it, holding it together.

What do I mean by huge? I mean 1,100+ pages. What do I mean by old? I mean 1898.

I sat down at the research table and started with the normal-sized book. There was nothing about my ancestors in that one, but there was a twee description of my mom’s hometown. It was described as pleasant weather-wise, abounding with game and streams of fish, and prosperous businesses.

I looked at the big boy, titled Commemorative biographical record of central Pennsylvania : including the counties of Centre, Clearfield, Jefferson and Clarion / containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, and of many of the early settled families. The black leather cover was very ornate. As I gingerly untied the string and opened the cover, tiny pieces of leather and paper flitted onto my shirt and the floor. I looked around the room guiltily, but no other researchers were paying attention to me.

The book was unwieldy to say the least. I painstakingly laid the book on its front and prayed there was an index. Thankfully there was, and I found my mother’s maiden name listed. I wrote down four page numbers and flipped to the first one.

Bingo! There was Josiah Richards, my second great-grandfather. He had a bio and two photos: one portrait and one of his lumber camp. My third great-grandfather was mentioned too.

I sighed. I needed to make photocopies of the pages. Was I really going to attempt to photocopy pages from a 1,100+-page book that was 115 years old and falling apart??


Suffice it to say it took me awhile and I pulled a muscle in my upper back during the ordeal.

It was worth it, of course. Here is the first paragraph of Josiah’s bio:

“Josiah S. Richards is a prominent and enterprising lumberman of Greenwood township, Clearfield county. Comparatively few men can attain to the highest offices in civil or military life, but in America the opportunity for advancement in business circles is open to all, and one may exercise his powers unrestrained and gain an enviable place in the ranks of trade. Mr. Richards has been dependent upon his own resources from an early age, and the success he has achieved is the reward of his own labors, while his life record furnishes a striking example of what can be accomplished by determined and honorable purpose.”

There you have it: the American Dream, folks.

So my first visit to the library was a success. Now it’s time to nurse my pulled muscle.

big book

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