Genealogy: In The Stacks

Today I decided to do a little local genealogical research and made a trip to Cabell County Library.

This blog is not really about genealogy.  It’s about overcoming the fear of strangers in Cabell County and knowing your surroundings.

Huntington, WV is ground zero for the opioid epidemic.  There is a reason oxycontin was nicknamed Hillbilly Heroin.  The “Hillbilly” is due to the fact that West Virginians were the first to crush it up and circumvent the time release nature of the drug.  Get it all at once. In recent years there have been documentaries that made national news highlighting the downward spiral of many of the citizens of the area.  I tell you that to tell you about today’s research trip. After stopping at the Bodega for a little breakfast, I drove up the block to park in front of the library.  Sitting on the stairs and in the immediate area were people smoking cigarettes and giving their best menacing looks.  A number of people, including one man who asked for spare change, had open sores visible on their faces and necks.  That is normally an indicator for meth users who pick at the feelings of bugs under their skin.  Gruffly I said I have no change and moved along into the library.  I made my way up the stairs to the second floor and into the genealogy room.  Taking care to know my surroundings, I marveled at the fact that the windows that look out to the main area of the second floor were covered with black curtains.  Virtually making the genealogy room a hiding spot. As I moved to open the curtains, they and the rod fell down (spring rod pinioned between the two sides of the window).  I took the curtains down from the next window as well.  I made eye contact with the clerks at the reference desk and nodded/waved. Now I know you are probably thinking that I am overreacting.  However, as I spoke gruffly earlier to the man asking for change, I was reminded that a woman was raped last year in this library in the bathroom.  So, there is cause for concern.

While looking for my stack of books to begin the research, I heard a little shuffling around in the corner.  I realized that I was not alone in the room.  I took my books and went back to a desk by the door and began to muddle through indexes and search names and look through census data.  I had my notebook open and I was jotting down notes when I see a man come from behind the stacks in the room with a small box in his hand.  He moves to the microfilm projector and opens the little box of film, threads it and proceeds to scroll to and fro, pausing occasionally to read articles.  For about an hour we occupied the same area, each moving to different sections of the stacks, each coming back to our respective desks to thumb through, trying to find something.  Then an older gentleman came in and sat with him.  I was suddenly uber aware that there were two men and just me in this mostly secluded room.  I allowed my jitters to get the better of me.  Then I overheard a snippet of their conversation: “Look at this! It’s from the 1800s!  That’s older than probably my great grandparents!  That is amazing!” And then they were doing smart phone searches to compare the information they found.  I feared people I did not know. I hate that.  But I also know that knowing your surroundings is very important as well.  Conflicting “feels” right now.

Libraries are reall amazing places.  As I visit more of them, I realize they are a place for people living on limited means to go for information, assistance and entertainment.  They are a place to come in from the cold/heat for relief.  And when funding for these libraries are cut, it’s people of limited means who are affected, those who cannot afford internet/computers at home and those who have no home to go to.  It was not as if I saw a mercedes parked out front or anything. As I left the second floor, I saw a man who had carried his possessions in a kitchen garbage bag and had set them next to the library computer he was using, while watching a how-to YouTube video.  It made me thankful for where I am in life, blessed with a life comfortable enough that I could find myself driving to a library on a Saturday, computer slung over my shoulder, to research my ancestors.  #Perspective.

On a genealogy note: I found a handful of leads and made copies of 10 pages of census data for Husband’s family.  It was a productive trip..


  1. I found this posting to be a little sad. First on how you had to be on guard and perhaps missed an opportunity to met a stranger, and who knows what could have grown out of that. I also found it sad that people were able to hang around the outside of the library and ask for money. I wonder how many people this has caused to stop coming to the library. I recall how at a very young age I could walk to the library and never had any problem. Anyway I do enjoy reading your blog keep up the good work.

    1. I was a little sad as well. I came home thinking that there were two people, just trying to hang out in the library and look at neat stuff that is really amazing (when you think about it). The area is not super safe so I do have to keep my guard up.

      Earlier in the day I made conversation with the two people who sat at an adjacent table while I had breakfast. Lovely people and I even gave them my cell number if they needed recommendations while staying in the area. So, I try to remember that I was not closed off ALL day.

      I am glad you enjoy my blog. Thanks.

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