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The Proper Etiquette for Genealogists

July 16, 1987|MYRA V. GORMLEY

No one likes to be around unmannerly people--gum smackers, soup slurpers or dinner guests who steal the silverware right off your table.

Unfortunately genealogists, as a group, have acquired the uncouth label. Many librarians detest those they call genealogy buffs-- and rightfully so. I don't know anyone who likes thieves and property destroyers.

"We have come up against genealogy buffs who, instead of copying by hand a three-line entry in a 1909 city directory, rip out half a page," a California librarian said.

A Georgia librarian told me, "It is often the nice patrons who steal books."

"The 'family historians' wreak havoc with precious books and documents," a Tennessee archivist said, "and we have had to restrict access to much of our material simply because they write in books and rip out pages--even steal books and periodicals."

It is time for genealogical societies and seminar speakers to speak out and educate genealogists on manners. Admonish them not to steal or mutilate property.

Visitors to most archives now must bring a standard form of identification (such as driver's license) to be shown to a security officer on duty. Many repositories will not allow books, notebooks in covers, envelopes, briefcases or similar containers to be taken into their research rooms. Why? Because of thieves and property destroyers--many of them genealogists.

These rules have been made because too many so-called "respectable" researchers (genealogical, historical and others) seemingly have no respect for property.

This problem imperils all genealogists. It threatens to slam the door on what we need most--access to records.

Many librarians have a dim view of genealogists--and perhaps they are justified. The family historian often is a newcomer to the special world of research with its high standard of scholarship and etiquette.

What is proper etiquette for a genealogist?

First talk to the librarian or staff member on duty regarding the library's rules. Ask about sources available and how you can access them. You show your ignorance when you refuse to ask for help. These experts know what's in their library and how to find it, but they won't research your family tree.

Whether using public or private libraries, or archives, work alone, quietly. Restrict conversation to areas outside of the search rooms.

Never mark or remove pages from a book, or cut any material from books, directories or documents, or remove cards from files.

Many libraries request that you do not reshelve books. If in doubt about procedures, ask.

At the reading table keep all books on the table in front of you. Write your notes on the table surface--not on the pages of the books or documents. Do not moisten your fingertips to turn pages.

When you are permitted to examine an original document at an archive, be careful in unfolding it. Do it slowly. If the document seems damaged from handling, bring it to the attention of the attendant immediately. Exercise special care when handling original documents so that your bare arms do not touch the document. Make your notes away from the documents and never place your notepaper upon them.

Old books often are damaged from handling no matter how careful you are. If you can hear the dry glue breaking when handling the book, keep the book flat on the table.

When using microfilmed records, pay attention to posted library rules. Some libraries will allow you take up to five rolls of film at a time, others restrict you to one roll. Regardless, take only one film out of the box at a time. Learn to feed microfilm and microfiche machines properly. When finished, rewind the film and refile it properly.

If you have ever taken a book or document from a repository, return it . . . now.

For a beginner's how-to genealogy kit (with charts) send $4 (postage paid) and address your questions (please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope) to Myra Vanderpool Gormley, Box 64316, Tacoma, Wash. 98464.

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