Discovering your family history can be incredibly enriching and satisfying. It can help answer questions about your ancestors and your own identity, uncover family stories and photographs, connect you to new relatives and sometimes even reveal important medical history. October, designated Family History Month in 2001, is a great time to begin your research. Your local library is a great place to start.
The Colfax branch of Whitman County Library has a sizable local history collection and dedicated staff to help you get started. From computers that offer access to research tools to our reference collection of biographies, family histories, and history of Whitman County, the library is a key destination for family history researchers. We also have Colfax yearbooks dating back to 1915, past copies of the Bunchgrass Historian and Whitman County Genealogical Society newsletters, and an assortment of plat maps dating back to 1895.
Just last week, library staff helped a researcher locate a plat map in our collection to find where their ancestors homesteaded in Plainville, outside Farmington. Plainville doesn’t exist anymore, but staff showed them on a modern map where it had been located and provided them with driving directions. Although the area looks much different now, the researcher was able to visit and get a sense for how it fit into their family’s history. “To actually visit where the village of Plainville was located in Washington Territory was the culmination of many months of research thanks to (the library),” they said.
If you’re excited to start but don’t know where to begin, library staff have created a binder of resources including a guide to the library’s genealogical and local history holdings, blank pedigree charts, a list of the different documents you’ll want to gather, tips for how to use census data and more.
The local history collection is available to the public during Colfax open hours which are 1- a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Friday and 1-5 p.m. Saturday. All of our branches also have local history collections, including yearbooks and histories specific to their areas. These collections are available during branch open hours. Safety measures are in place to comply with state guidelines, and researchers are reminded to wear a mask and maintain social distancing standards while at the library.
If you prefer to do your research from home, WCL offers HeritageQuest Online. Free to use with your library card from any device with an internet connection, HeritageQuest offers access to billions of records including census records, city directories, obituaries, immigration records, published family histories and more. Visit the “Electronic Resources” page on our website to log on and start exploring your past.
If you’re more interested in the visual aspect of your family’s history, visit our online Whitman County Rural Heritage collection which boasts almost 5,000 digitized items including historically significant photographs, family movies, clippings and documents in an easily searchable format. The collection can be accessed from the library’s website or by visiting the Facebook page at “History of Whitman County-Our Rural Heritage.” You can also enjoy highlights from the collection by viewing our exhibits at the county courthouse, Colfax Library, Lacrosse Market and Endicott Library. The Colfax Library has a revolving exhibit that will be focusing on “families” this month.
The library recently received a grant to add more than 100 digitized items to the collection including items held by the Rosalia School District, Rosalia Museum, and community members; the family archives of Colfax-raised Robert Osborne who moved to Hollywood and became well-known as a host for Turner Classic Movies; and Whitman County Library’s photo album collection that documents Library activities and staff dating back to 1945.
We are always looking for more items to digitize and add to our online collection. If you have any historically significant photos or memorabilia in your personal collection that you would like to have digitized and be made available for other researchers to see, contact our Whitman County Heritage Coordinator Kathy Buchholtz at email@example.com.
Looking for more local places to go to start your family history search? The Whitman County Historical Society, Whitman County Genealogical Society, WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections and your nearest public library are all excellent resources for genealogy and local history assistance.
For more information, visit our website at www.whitco.lib.wa.us or call the library at (509) 397-4366.
Kylie Fullmer is director of Whitman County Library.