Nfld. & Labrador

Explore the branches of your family tree at The Rooms

"Some people may be intimidated because it's the archives and they think it's just for academic research and so on, but it's not," says archivist Melanie Tucker.

'That's what we're there for, to help guide people,' says archivist

A genealogy kiosk at The Rooms in St. John's will help people get started researching their family tree. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

If you always wanted to research your family history, but didn't know where to start, The Rooms wants to help.

Last summer, the St. John's museum, art gallery and provincial archives set up a genealogy research kiosk that will help with some basic search functions.

"It's been really popular and a lot of our visitors to The Rooms are actually coming to do research," says Melanie Tucker, a reference and access archivist.

Some people may be intimidated … and they think it's just for academic research and so on, but it's not.- Melanie Tucker

"When they see the genealogy kiosk it sort of gives them that little, huh, that's interesting, maybe I'll pop in and see what else I can find out."

Tucker said there is an enormous amount of information available to be researched.

There are two searchable databases — one has digitized records from The Rooms collection, parish records, vital statistics and census records. The other is a database of headstone photos from around the province.

And, of course, there's even more that isn't searchable at the kiosk.

"We have wills, as well — old wills that go back as far as 1744. Wills are a fabulous resource for finding out maybe a little bit more about the social history, about the way our families lived, about what they had," Tucker told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"Sometimes even where they came from, beyond Newfoundland, whether they were from Ireland or England, Scotland.

"Oftentimes, in old wills, you'll see people who are mentioning family back home in Ireland and they're leaving something to them and mentioning them in the will."

Don't be intimidated

Tucker said researchers have already gone through old newspaper clippings and extracted data — obituaries, birth and marriage announcements, and other notable events — and saved that data.

Newfoundland and Labrador is unique in the country, as well, because census data is made public earlier.

"For Newfoundland the census records start — we have 1945, 1935 and 1921 census that are available for research. [In] the rest of Canada, census records have to be 100 years old before they can be made available," Tucker said.

Researchers have gone through old newspapers to collect information, plugging that data into a searchable database. (The Rooms)

"It's really different. I don't know why that started here, they were always available, they're grandfathered in, but the census records list everybody living in a family household, they list everybody's ages, if they're working, it says their occupation, family income, all of this stuff."

Tucker has been with The Rooms for nearly 20 years and said genealogy research has always been one of the most common reasons people visit the archives.

They even offer three-hour workshops, at $45 a round, where people can sign up for a tutorial with archivists to teach them how to get started on researching their family history.

"They sell out every time," she said, adding that they keep offering new workshops as people call The Rooms to add their names to the wait list.

Tucker said if people want to do some research, but feel overwhelmed and aren't sure where to start, there are always people available to help.

"We always have staff in the reference room and that's what we're there for, to help guide people through the archives.

"Some people may be intimidated because it's the archives and they think it's just for academic research and so on, but it's not."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show

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