A One-on-One Conversation with Genealogy Librarian Crystal Ward

This article originally appeared in the December 24, 2014 issue of the Wednesday Word.

For the fourth installment of this five part December series, I sat down and had a conversation with Genealogy Librarian Crystal Ward. Genealogy is a huge part of the services that the Indiana State Library provides, and Crystal was more than happy to talk about all of the interesting artifacts in the ISL collection.

RB: Tell me about how you came to ISL, and what made you want to become a librarian in the first place?

CW: I started out working in libraries. In high school I was a page at the Haughville Branch, and then I worked at several libraries. I worked at academic libraries, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Marion County Jail Library, so I’m used to working with the public doing reference work. When I saw the job listing for ISL I thought, “Oh that sounds very interesting.” I had done my own genealogy, so it was kind of a hobby to start with. When I had seen the position I thought, “Oh I can do that!” So I applied, and that is how I ended up here. When I was working in high school I never thought that I would be a librarian. I just needed some money to get a car and all that stuff.

RB: Were you volunteering there?

CW: No. I was paid. I was a page in high school at Haughville. It is a branch of IPL.

RB: You didn’t think you were going to become a librarian. What did you think you were going to do?

CW: I had no idea. I thought about going into nursing, but I wasn’t really interested in that. When I was a kid I thought I would be a teacher. I just kind of stumbled upon it and I liked working there. That’s why I started working at libraries.

RB: Is there any particular project that you are working on right now that is really interesting?

CW: Right now we are trying to get started with digitization. We are just at the very front part of that. Our biggest project is organizing the vault and moving it from its location now to a different location.

RB: What is the process of digitization?

CW: What we want to do is to digitize our pamphlet files. The problem with our pamphlet files is that it is stuff that people have donated over the years that isn’t big enough to put on the shelf, like one or two pages. A lot of it is compiled family history. People may have taken material from a lot of books and just photocopied it, put it together, and given it to us as their family history. So we’re not sure about the copyrights for a lot of that stuff. What we want to do is concentrate more on the Family Bible pages that we have in the pamphlet files and digitize those. Then go through the family history and see if something is free from copyright and not compiled from a bunch of different sources without citing it properly.

RB: What do you mean by Family Bible?

CW: Well. [Grabbing an example from her desk] I don’t think they do it much anymore, but back with the old family bibles they would have a section in the front where you could put parent’s records, like who the mother and father were, the births in the family, the deaths in the family, and people would write down that information.

RB: So it’s like a little genealogy record.

CW: Right. That somebody has created. I don’t think that they are in bibles now.

RB: What would be the time period that you see most of these from?

CW: Most of them are late 1700’s.

RB: You have materials that are older than the state?

CW: Yeah we do! We found a few things from the 1700’s. They were in German.

RB: What is the bulk of what you have?

CW: The bulk of what we have are indexes of county histories, stuff that was published about genealogical records. Our collection is split up between county records, city records, our family histories, any kind of military research, and then the separate states. We collect heavily on Indiana and the feeder states, the surrounding states. We don’t collect much on anything out west, just the route people would have taken to get to Indiana from the Northeast. That is mostly what we collect on.

RB: What would you say is the age range of most of the collection?

CW: I couldn’t tell you cause we get things donated. We could get something published in 1970 and we could have gotten it donated yesterday.

RB: But you say there is a wide range. So there could be stuff from the 1700’s or there could be something from last year?

CW: Uh huh.

RB: Is there any particular item in the genealogy collection that really stands out for you?

CW: I think the family trees that people have created are pretty awesome. We have those up in the map room.

RB: If you were going to convince someone to visit ISL, what would you say to them?

CW: I would say we are the ‘other public library’ downtown that you don’t know about. We have a beautiful building and wonderful people here that are willing to help you search for records about your family history or Indiana.

RB: What do you like to do when you are not working here?

CW: Play with my dogs.

RB: What kind of dogs do you have?

CW: I have two Mini Schnauzers and a German Shepherd.

RB: Oh really? I had a Schnauzer at my dad’s place when I was growing up. His name was Spike. He was a really tough dog.

CW: His name is Dwight [pointing to the Schnauzer], did you ever watch the office? Yeah, and that is Odessa.

RB: They are funny dogs.

CW: Yeah they are.

RB: What have you read recently?

CW: Actually, I just finished The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon and I have two that I haven’t started.

RB: What is your favorite book of all time?

CW: My favorite of all time? That’s like asking somebody, “What’s your favorite child” [Laughing] or “Who’s your favorite dog.” I couldn’t pick a favorite book. I could pick a favorite genre I love – Thrillers, Psychological Thrillers.