On Thursday I decided to take advantage of having Cesar Chavez Day off from work to visit the Los Angeles Family History Library located on the grounds of the West LA Mormon temple. Yes, that’s right, a Mormon temple. For whatever reason the Church of Latter Day Saints has dedicated itself to amassing the world’s largest collection of genealogical records. They make this information available for free online at http://www.familysearch.org/ and at their family history research libraries around the world.
Though not many businesses recognize Cesar Chavez Day as a paid holiday I have to say the LAFHL was jumping. This is not just because genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the United States. As I’ve found in the last couple of years visiting meetings of various genealogical groups, the majority of active genealogists are our more, um, mature Americans. I often envy the fact that those who are retired have so much more time to dedicate to their research, but I know they envy me for starting at a time in my life when it is still possbile to interview older generations of my family. So I guess we’re even.
It was clear many of the patrons knew each other and the staff (who were also mature). I didn’t feel quite so left out once I ran into one of my new LA genealogy buddies, a woman who had befriended me at the Discover Your Roots conference where I presented on March 12. She’s a sweet Puerto Rican lady who always calls me “m’ija.”
One of the women on the staff spent quite a bit of time with me, showing me how to determine which microfiche records they had in the library, and then how to use the machine. Much to my excitement, they actually had microfiche of vital records indices from Barbados. I spent some time writing down all the page numbers listed for Beckles’ reported in the censuses of the 1890s. Next, I crossed my fingers that the library also held microfiche of the actual census pages I needed to look up to see if I found anyone that might just be Clarissa Beckles, my paternal grandfather’s mother. I was particularly hopeful since one of the many Beckles families listed in the index included a daughter named Clarice. Unfortunately, the LA library did not hold those records, so I requested to have them sent there. It will take at least three weeks for them to arrive, and possibly as many as eight.
After that I still had a couple of hours to kill before going to my salsa dance class and I really wanted to make the most of the trip out to the library. I wandered around online, checking out the various databases available on the library’s computers. (By the way, instead of paying for full membership to sites like http://www.ancestry.com/ you can access all of their records for free at your local FHL.) I actually came across something that I could have found from the comfort of my own (dying) laptop at home. In perusing various listserves for my French Caribbean surnames I came across a posting from a Colomb in Panama who I was sure had to be a member of my extended family. Not only was I excited to see someone else in the family who is interested in researching family history, she also revealed a new peice of information in her short message.
She referred to my maternal grandmother’s mother as Lollanis. I’d never heard or seen this name and was puzzled because I was pretty sure I did have a name for her on file. I pulled out my laptop and studied the scanned image of the certified copy of my grandmother’s birth certificate that I obtained on my last trip to Panama. In that document her name is shown as Edelanise Mondesi. When I told my mom about this the next day she told me with great certainty that she had never heard of anyone named Lollanis (or Leilani, as she kept saying) and that her grandmother’s name was Edelanive (yes, with a v not an s as in Nana Tere’s birth certificate).
I sent an e-mail to this cousin I’d never actually met to confirm that she was the N. Colomb who had posted the message and to ask where she had gotten this Lollanis business from. She wrote back and said that was the name she remembers seeing on her father’s birth certificate many years ago and that she would ask him about it.
To be continued (very soon, I hope)…