To be a genealogist, to do genealogy, requires sources of information. These sources emerge as part of ever-evolving information infrastructures. This paper analyzes how local genealogists organized genealogical services and collections in a public library archives in Urbana, Illinois. These local practices both shaped and reflected the emergence of a national, and even international, genealogical information infrastructure between the years of 1958 and 1978. By analyzing these local information practices in their historical context, I offer new perspectives on how and why genealogical research became accessible and appealing to many Americans of diverse class and ethnic backgrounds in the second half of the twentieth century. In addition, by foregrounding how amateur genealogists took control of the library’s archives space for their own purposes, this paper considers how library users shape libraries, and information infrastructures more generally.
“Democratizing” Genealogy and Family Heritage Practices: The View from Urbana, Illinois was presented by Noah Lenstra on February 12th, 2014. Noah is a PhD student at GSLIS, and an advisee of Dr. Kate Williams.
Listen to the audio file of his talk.
Image: UFL Scrapbook Box 12 (1977). Courtesy Champaign County Historical Archives.