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Big Moves For Library’s Genealogy Room And Longtime Volunteer

Published: December 28, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, the C.H. Booth Library continues to experience an influx of change, this time with its genealogy resources.

Upon the recent move of its Genealogy Room from the building’s second floor to the space directly above it on the third floor, the library is also facing the departure of its longtime genealogy volunteer, Harlan Jessup.

Having retired from his work at the library earlier this month, Mr Jessup and his wife will soon be moving to Maine to be closer to his daughter and grandsons.

Originally moving to Newtown with his family in 1982, Mr Jessup always had a passion for genealogy. His hobby motivated him to research his own family tree, where he found southern roots on his mother’s side and discovered his lineage reaches all the way to England on his father’s side.

After retiring from his day job in 1990, Mr Jessup continued pursuing his interest in genealogy and sought to expand his knowledge of the topic. Shortly thereafter, he met with some professional genealogists in Connecticut who encouraged him to become a professional genealogist, as well.

Inspired, he began volunteering at the C.H. Booth Library in the early 2000s to help others on their genealogy journey.

When the previous caretaker of the library’s Genealogy Room, Carolyn Stokes, left after serving the library for more than 60 years, Mr Jessup became in charge of helping in the Genealogy Room.

Around that time, the genealogy room moved upstairs to the second floor, after previously being housed in a much smaller location on the ground floor.

Mr Jessup recalled how the first-floor room was practically the size of a closet and that “You had to get a key from the librarian in order to get in; it was quite restrictive.”

However, with its move to the second floor, Mr Jessup was able meet with people each week in the spacious Genealogy Room and help guide them on where to find the information they were looking for. He also answered all the e-mail queries sent to the library and did research for people who lived out of state, and were looking for information specially focused on southwestern Connecticut.

The library subscribes to a number of journals, including Connecticut Ancestry — of which Mr Jessup was editor for 11 years, Connecticut Nutmegger, New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and New York Genealogy and Biological Record.

“There’s also a fair collection of published family genealogies, most of which were oriented to families connected to this part of Connecticut,” Mr Jessup said. “There’s a very nice collection of local histories for Connecticut, nearby New York, Massachusetts, and other New England towns.”

One of the predominate family genealogies at the C.H. Booth Library is the nationally recognized Julia Brush Genealogy Collection.

Area And Local Collections

According to Mr Jessup, Ms Brush was a Danbury resident who collected a variety of information on her family and other southwestern Connecticut families in the area. When she died around 1930, her collection was donated to the library.

The Genealogy Room even has many localized collections, many of which are cataloged in white binders, including Newtown’s birth, marriage, and death records from 1711 to 1852; “vital records” of The Newtown Bee from 1889 to 1953 and obituaries from 2004 to 2008; and Newtown Congregational Church records from 1715 to 1946.

“Some people think everything is available online,” Mr Jessup said about the genealogy resources. “We still have quite a bit of stuff that is not online and maybe never will be online.”

Also, manuscript materials that were formerly located in a cabinet in the downstairs Genealogy Room can now be accessed with help of a reference librarian.

Andy Forsyth, who is the library’s Reference Department Head, added that “Harlan worked with a young man, Tristan Filiato, throughout the summer and early fall to plan and implement the genealogy collection move. Tristan is working on his Eagle Scout award, and this major contribution of time and effort to the library is his community service project.”

The whole process, Mr Jessup said, took about two months to complete and now both rooms are open to the public to use.

The Genealogy Room is also currently being utilized for the Genealogy Club of Newtown, a group that Mr Jessup founded in 2001 with the help of Mary and Ray Maki.

The club’s brochure at the library states that members meet on the second Wednesday of each month (except July and August) at 7 pm, in the Genealogy Room. The group has guest speakers, field trips, and welcomes the public to join.

“I am pleased that it has become an active club that attracts people from not just Newtown, but all over the regional area,” Mr Jessup said.

Despite his upcoming move, Mr Jessup says the club will remain active and be a great resource in assisting those looking for genealogy help at the library. He hopes it will continue to bring together fellow genealogists who are looking to share their experiences and learn from one another.

“I’ve enjoyed helping people over the years,” Mr Jessup said, looking back on his time at the C.H. Booth Library.

He encourages anyone who is interested in learning about genealogy to visit the library and discover the great wealth of knowledge it has for those looking to uncover the past.

To learn more about the C.H. Booth Library’s Genealogy Room, visit chboothlibrary.org or stop by 25 Main Street.

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