Guest Blog – Using the Research Room

We present to you, unedited, a blog post created by one of our Research Room volunteers!

Using the Research Room
Justin Morrison

At first glance the research room in the Ohio History Center looks like any other library.  Walls of books eight feet high border the room’s perimeter; solid wood tables that look like they weigh north of 500 pounds are scattered around the room; the high ceiling is adorned with 1960’s era hanging light fixtures.  However, digging deeper, you find that this isn’t your normal public library.  It is in fact a treasure trove of history, where one can read committee notes from a law passed in 1955 or perform exhaustive research on family.

Alva Morrison marriage registry

I was doing the latter, using the research room’s computers to peruse ancestry.com.  I wanted to find out more about my family, because I’ve never known much about particular branches of the tree, specifically my father’s family.  As I was searching I found records for my great-grandfather, and I noticed that he was from Canada. After a few more clicks, I was looking at the official registry of my great-grandparents’ marriage.  I never knew they were from Tilbury, in Ontario province in Canada.  I was able to follow their path, finding a 1930 U.S. Census form for when they were living in Sandusky, Ohio.  It listed their date of immigration, 1922, and my great-grandfather’s occupation: horse trainer.

1930 census featuring the Morrison family

I found a book with the admittedly dry title of Marriage Records of Crawford County 1893-1979.  The records confirmed that my great-grandparents were married on the same day, October 16th, as my wife and me.  I found a 1955 Bucyrus city directory with the listing for Haala Battery and Ignition Service, a shop owned by my great-grandfather.  A directory from 1977 listed Mac’s Drive-In, a popular spot owned by my grandparents.  Although I knew these people and places all existed, seeing them listed in black and white made me feel a strong connection to my family.  I imagined someone using that 1955 directory to call my great-grandfather with a car problem, and hearing his voice on the other line.

The Research Room is full of surprises such as these, and its voluminous resources are free and open to the public.  All you have to do is stop at the main lobby of the History Center and sign up for a library card. If you go make sure to set aside a couple hours, because if your experience is anything like mine, once you start digging, you won’t want to stop.

The resources available in the research room and archives include:

  • 52,000 microfilm rolls of newspapers, dating back to 1795
  • 10,000 microfilm rolls of government records
  • Over 1 million photographic records
  • 140,000 books
  • 13,500 cubic feet of government records
  • Over 15,000 maps

These records are as unique and varied as the state they document.  One can read Civil War letters, ads for slaves, documents from Ohio corporations such as White Castle, prison records, and even committee notes from the legislative history of Ohio.

The research room is in the process of some changes, all with the goal of making the room and its resources more user-friendly.  The changes are related to the renewed theme of “Let’s Explore Ohio,” with the goal of letting Ohioans and others explore the documents and images that have shaped the state and its people.

One significant change has been the addition of one more day of operation each week.  Previously open three days, the research room is now open Wednesday through Saturday.  The center was able to accomplish this because of the sixteen volunteers who staff the research room and assist the public service staff who works there.  Another change involved moving the reference desk to the middle of the room, where it had previously been tucked away in a corner, with the goal being making the room more open and comfortable. Additionally, plans are in the works for a new audio/visual station in September of this year.  This will include TV’s with DVD players, as well as computers equipped with speakers.

While doing my research in the room, I realized that I wasn’t alone in enjoying this resource.  On a sunny Friday afternoon, during the Ohio State Fair, about twenty people were scattered around the room doing research.  It was heartening to see the smiles on a person’s face when they made a significant discovery.  With my family tree now more complete, I knew how they felt.

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