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Researchers at Iredell County Library come from many states, other countries
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Researchers at Iredell County Library come from many states, other countries

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Historical tourism has become a focus for towns and states across the country. When these visitors come in to visit Fort Dobbs, the Vance House, the Sharpe House or other sites, they usually stay in local hotels, eat and shop in local businesses, and buy gas. Many researchers come to the Iredell County Public Library. We keep a sign in log notebook in the Local History Room at the library here in Statesville. People can sign in and leave their contact information along with the names of the families they are working on.

Every so often, we go back and make an index of those who have been here by arranging them in order according to the family name they are working on. Patrons can then look and see who has been here researching a particular family. Visitors do not have to sign in, but most of them are glad to leave their information in hopes that other researchers working on the same family will contact them and offer to exchange information.

Recently, I went back through the notebook to gather information on who was visiting the library for a grant we were applying for. From January 2010 to September 2021 we had 633 visits from researchers from 38 other states. We had 92 visitors from Texas. We also had 12 visits from researchers from six other countries: Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.

From 2003 to September 2021 we had visitors from 45 other states and received letters requesting research help from two more. A lot of requests for research comes through letters, email and phone calls. I have a letter requesting information from the Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California, right now. In addition to the six countries already mentioned, we also had visitors and contacts from Australia, Holland, Japan and Puerto Rico.

The only states that we have not had visitors, letters, emails or phone calls from are, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. We seem to have dropped the ball on them, and I feel we need to work more locally on getting their residents interested in Iredell County.

Mayor Costi Kutteh, just when is Statesville’s “Salute to Montana Week” this year? Iredell-Statesville School Superintendent Jeff James, forget Europe, why can’t we have student exchange with Wyoming? The county commissioners go on a working retreat each year. Commissioner Chairman James Mallory, why not North Dakota in 2022? If you carpool up with the county manager's office you can have the budget finished by the time you get there. You can get out, walk around and tell North Dakotans about the library.

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A few years ago, a man who had visited here called back later and said that he had used the index to contact another person working on the same family.

“You won't believe this,” he said, “but I am already done. This lady sent me the complete linage of my family going back to the first ones to arrive in the New World in the 1700s.”

Most of us are not that lucky. Researching your family history is an ongoing project. You reach a point where you think you have found everything there is to find and think you can stop, but you never really get done. I researched mine in the 1980s and thought I was finished, but I went back a few years later and found new information that had previously not been released.

What’s exciting is that you can now research much of your family history without leaving the house via the internet. The online genealogical site ancestry.com is now allowing public library card holders free access to the information on their site through the end of December. You just go to our libraries Local History page at iredell.lib.nc.us/167/Local-History-Genealogy. You then scroll down the page and click where it says, “Ancestry Library Edition” and put in your library card number to gain access.

When I started doing research, I never even thought about researching newspapers. Obituaries provide a gold mine of information. I sent a patron from out of state what I could find on her family in the newspapers published in Iredell County. I found obituaries, birth announcements, wedding announcements, legal notices about transfer of land, high school graduation information, car accidents they had been in, citations they had received, school plays they had been in, military service articles, sports they participated in and much more.

You can research local papers by going to our website and clicking on the “Historic North Carolina Newspaper Collection,” which has Statesville papers searchable online from 1858 to 1977, and “Newspaper Archive,” which has local papers online from 1874 to 1977. You should use both as they each have different papers online and different search engines that might find different articles. The library has 2,224 reels of microfilm of newspapers in its collection including the Statesville and Mooresville papers to the present.

A man recently came in wanting to look up a murder that had happened more than 20 years ago. I sat down with him with the microfilm and found the articles that appeared in the paper. I found the initial write-up of the crime, the arrest and the trail afterwards along with the obituary of the victim. The convicted killer had been sentenced to 20 years in prison. I thought my patron must be related to the victim and wondered aloud if the killer was still alive. The guy sitting next to me said, “Oh yeah, that’s me. I just got out.” Oh well.

Joel Reese is the local history librarian at the Iredell County Public Library.

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