A priceless and growing collection of genealogical research materials has made the Tamaqua Public Library a hot spot for those searching a family tree.

The new Local History Collection had its start about five years ago with a $5,000 Department of Community and Economic Development grant, according to Eric Zizelmann, library trustee, who helped spearhead the effort.

The grant, secured during the tenure of librarian Debi Dodson, now associated with the Shenandoah Public Library, allowed a two-pronged approach to build up existing resources.

"One was to buy a new microfilm reader," says Zizelmann, "and then to augment the collection."

Bob Betz, Tamaqua, researched available microfilm readers and was successful in finding a printable unit, in other words, a unit that permits researchers to print out and save articles.

The microfilm reader was key to the effort because the Tamaqua Public Library is host to the entire existing archives of the daily Tamaqua Evening Courier, beginning February 28, 1874, through September, 1971. At that point, the TIMES NEWS became the newspaper of record for Tamaqua and eastern Schuylkill County, and so the library also includes TIMES NEWS microfilm copies from February 17, 1972, to September 29, 2008.

Microfilm copies of those records also are maintained at TIMES NEWS headquarters, Mahoning Valley.

The library also maintains microfilm copies of The Weekly Intelligencer from July 15, 1875, to May 4, 1876.

With funds from other grants, the library purchased numerous books and compiled records from local churches, cemeteries, and government archives, according to Gayle Heath, librarian since March, 2008. The library is now accepting donations of family research projects to be shelved for public use. The repository also is completing its holdings of area yearbooks, and accumulating Tamaqua area church and cemetery data, and records from funeral homes and the Schuylkill County courthouse.

The library's resources aren't limited to Schuylkill County. Book holdings also include material from Carbon, Berks, Columbia, Lebanon, Monroe and Northumberland counties.

Also available are burial records of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, the sprawling resting place for well over 15,000 persons.

There has been overwhelming interest in genealogy is recent years, with specific research requests directed to the library on a regular basis. According to a 1995 survey by Maritz Marketing Research, over 45% of American adults, or 87.5 million people, are interested in genealogy.

The library will conduct research for the benefit of those living a distance. A donation is requested for the service.

While virtually any specific resource can prove useful at any given time, Zizelmann points to four popular items typically requested by researchers: 1) The library's directory based on the 1890 U. S. Census, which is the national census which had been destroyed by fire 2) The 1875 Atlas of Schuylkill County 3) The very hard-to-find 1902 Credit Directory of Tamaqua businesses and 4) The recent (2010) edition of Iron Steps, Illustrated History of Tamaqua, Pa. by Donald R. Serfass. The library also maintains a copy of the out-of-print 1995 edition of Iron Steps.

Zizelmann says the library has a wish list.

"We'd still like to have the voter registrations from the late 1800s. There are a few copies out there."

In addition, subscriptions links to Ancestry.com would be useful, he says, along with digitizing the old editions of the Evening Courier or perhaps creating an index to obituaries. Another idea would be to create transcriptions to every cemetery.

In addition, the library is looking for specific yearbooks to complete its collection.

The library is in need of the following yearbooks from Tamaqua High School/Tamaqua Area H. S.: 1920, 21, 42, 46, 49, 55 57-60, 62, 63, 73, 74, 76, 86, 88, 91, 92, 2008 and 09.

"In some cases, we have the books but certain pages have been torn out," says Heath.

Also being sought are yearbooks from Coaldale High School and Marian Catholic High School.

Zizelmann believes that interest in genealogy surged forward after Alex Haley's 'Roots,' and has not slowed since that time. He feels the interest will continue.

"If your library is your portrait, then it's our job to make sure we're providing for the needs and wants of our patronage. This collection speaks to that," explains Zizelmann. "Tamaqua has a rich cultural heritage and people want to know about it."

In fact, at a personal level, Heath, the former Gail Miller, can attest to the interest and mystique associated with searching a family's past.

"I think genealogy is exciting. I have a brother who got heavily involved with it, and I'm finding out things I never knew," says Heath, a native of Northumberland County.

It seems people have a desire to learn more about their past. And that curiosity makes sense. After all, how can we know where we're going unless we know where we've been?

The unique resources of the Tamaqua Public Library not only help to tell us where we've been, but also who we are.

(quote)

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum. An emptiness. And the most disquieting loneliness."

- Alex Haley