PNT Photo: Lisa Sonnenschein
It’s a 15-by-15 foot room in the back of the Portales Public Library with lists of names that may unlock the past.
With city directories, phone books, census results and other resources, the library’s Genealogy Room brings family histories to light.
“What people can learn is where their families lived, what jobs they did, family relationships, military history,” said Jenny Hamblin, circulation supervisor at the library.
While the room has its assortment of books that may be considered oddball or obscure — Burke’s Landed Gentry of 1952 or the History of Nacogdoches (1773 to 1849) — fans of genealogy are always glad for whatever resource is available.
“I think the people who go back there get the biggest thrill — it’s like a mystery to solve,” said Danielle Swopes, a librarian for 12 years in Portales. “We have people who will go back there and use it daily. It’s very easy to spark a conversation with them about genealogy.”
One of the most popular resources are the U.S. Census results, which are only made available after a 72-year wait. So, last year, results from the 1930 census were published.
At the Portales library, a user can get a smattering of census results from other parts of the country, too. As for New Mexico, however, the data is fairly complete.
Hamblin breaks down the kinds of users of the room into two categories:
• locals who have the time to come in and learn more about their past;
• visitors from out-of-town who have planned in advance to do some research at the library — because some of their own family history is known to have taken place in or around Portales.
The Roosevelt County Searchers, a local genealogical group, keeps a record of the visitors. Travelers from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Alabama and Kentucky are some of those who have used the room in the last year.
“They usually make a pointed effort to stop here and at the courthouse to look for records of their family members. Most of them, it’s not ‘Let’s take a family vacation to Portales to find an ancestor,’” Hamblin says. “Maybe they’ve got family in the region or they’re on their way to some place like the Grand Canyon, who knows?
“But a lot of people are making a special trip while they’re out,” Hamblin adds.
Some get library employees to do the searching for them.
Hamblin said one woman from Europe, a woman who said she born out of wedlock during World War II, has been investigating her family roots from her father’s side.
The woman knew one thing about the man she has been told is her father — he was from Portales.
“She wanted to know about her family history. Her mother had told her a couple names, so she called here and I told her if she wanted to send us the information and a self-addressed stamped envelope, we’d be glad to print out an obituary,” Hamblin said.