For our 2016-2017 Program, we will be getting to know our speakers through a series of blog interviews by our Publicity Chair Dana Leeds. Our series starts with Dana’s interview with Irene Walters, the featured speaker at the September, 2016 meeting giving the presentation “Genealogy Tips & Tricks: Finding Ancestors by Not Searching the Known Information.” Dana questions Irene about how she got started in genealogy, tips for researching at Clayton, the impact genealogy has made on her life, and more.
We hope you enjoy learning more about our presenters, and we look forward to seeing you this Saturday
What got you interested in genealogy as a teen?
Almost every time I came home from school and made a comment about another student, my mom would say “You know, you are related to them.” I began to wonder if there was anyone in my home county that I wasn’t related to. It turns out that I am related to at least half of the county.
You have been with Clayton almost 20 years. How did you end up in Houston as a New Yorker?
In 1997 Houston Public Library (HPL) posted a job ad with the American Library Association for a genealogy librarian at Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research. I saw the ad while I was still in Buffalo, NY and applied. I was interviewed over the phone and offered a position at the Clayton Library. I accepted and have been here ever since.
Did genealogy influence your becoming a librarian? And, how has being a librarian made you a better genealogist, or vice versa?
Genealogy didn’t really influence me to become a librarian, but has given me an ambition for after retirement. Once I retire, I would like to move back to my home county in New York and become the county historian, then I can go through ALL the records at the county historical society and add to my genealogy. Being a librarian has definitely made me a better genealogist. The reference classes I took taught me a lot on how to use different sources more effectively and about reference materials and collections I had never heard of before library school.
You coordinate Clayton’s involvement in the digitization project with the LDS Library in Salt Lake City. What current projects are being digitized? And what has been one of your favorite or most important digitization projects?
There are currently no project or books being digitized by the LDS Library at HPL. The Mormon missionaries finished digitizing the last of the books accepted by the project earlier this calendar year. The LDS Library in Salt Lake is finishing putting the last of the books digitized at Clayton Library up online on their Family History Books page and the last of the books digitized by the Mormon missionaries down at HPL’s Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) have already been loaded. I am very proud that we were able to digitize the “Robert Bruce Blake research collection” and the set of Supplement books. Clayton Library has one of the original 4 sets of these books that contain transcripts and abstracts of Texas archival materials from the per-Republic days. Now these 93 volumes can be researched by anyone, anytime.
Who is your favorite ancestor or what has been one of your favorite genealogical discoveries?
I love finding out more about the women in my family. My favorite at the moment is my great-great aunt Maggie Higby (A.K.A. Margaret Bush Higby Hammond). Born in 1849 to French immigrant parents, she lost her mother at age 4, and one of her brothers when she was 16 to the Civil War. She started working outside the home for pay when she was 12. She was married twice, and lost her first husband when their 2 girls were early teenagers. The second husband, her father, her stepmother, and one daughter died between 1892 and 1900. Also in that time period she gained an illegitimate grandson and according to the 1900 and 1910 censuses Aunt Maggie had and lost one or two other children along the way. She went to live with her oldest brother (a Civil War veteran) for a few years after his wife died. Then moved back to Croghan and raised that first grandson after his mother got married and had other children. She lost that second daughter, two grandsons, her big sister (Catherine), her oldest brother (Joseph – when he accidently drank the medicine that he was supposed to rub on his legs for his “Civil War caused” rheumatism), and her brother Frank (my great grandpa) all between 1900 and 1930. She still lived alone (except in the winter) in her own house, canned from her garden, etc. until she was 95. She lived from age 95 to age 100 ½ at her grandson’s in the next county. For her 100th birthday there was a write up in the local paper about her and how she enjoyed many things like reading without glasses and passing the day by listening to her radio programs. The article also talked about how she had washed, carded and spun wool to make blankets, so she and I share a love of reading and handcrafts. I think Aunt Maggie was an amazing woman and one ancestor that I would like to get in a time machine and talk to.
What is one tip you could share for doing research at Clayton Library?
Bring a flash drive, and small bills or change, and a writing implement. With these things you will be able to make digital copies of records found on the computer or microprint onto the flash drive, make photocopies from books and printouts from the computers using the money, and document on those paper copies where the records come from using the pen or pencil.
How has genealogy made a difference in your life?
Professionally the answer would be that I probably wouldn’t have moved all the way to Houston if there hadn’t been a genealogy librarian job down here. If the Houston Public Library (HPL) had been looking for a regular adult librarian I probably wouldn’t have applied, and I would have spent the last 19 years somewhere else. Personally searching for all of my relatives has improved my patience and persistence. As you will see in my talk for the Houston Genealogical Forum, searching for my own sneaky relatives has taught me to search around the known information to find these ancestors I’ve come to love.
Thank you for giving us this opportunity to get to know you better, Irene. We look forward to hearing your presentation with tips on helping us find our “tricky” ancestors!