Ancestral History In Our Own Back Yard
By Jackie Nickel
The world’s largest family history library is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. The main library building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there contains 142,000 square feet of space, with four floors open to the public. It hosts over 2,400 visitors per day. While few local residents can travel to Utah to trace their roots, many genealogical neophytes are unaware that there is a treasure trove of information right in the heart of Essex at the Baltimore Stake Family History Center, 120 Stemmers Run Rd. It is but one of more than 3,400 centers worldwide.
In the past four weeks of my personal research, several readers have called recommending the local Latter-day Saints church library which is open to the public free of charge. Hours vary and a phone call before your visit is advisable as I learned last Thursday evening during a preliminary visit. The entrance is at the rear of the large modern building across from Stemmers Run Middle School and you must press a buzzer to gain admittance.
A volunteer greeted me at the door and led the way down the hallway to a small office containing file cabinets, modern computers and projection equipment. She asked for my name and address on the sign-in sheet and I noted the names and addresses of those preceding me, from Bowleys Quarters, Back River Neck and Rosedale. The center was closing an hour early, so there was just enough time to get the lay of the land, familiarize myself with equipment and prepare for a return visit on the weekend.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, there were about a half dozen patrons pouring over microfiche in the dimly lit film room. I knew what I was looking for from my previous visit and a volunteer showed me to the proper file cabinet. (While volunteers will not do research for you, they are happy to offer an orientation, answer questions and help you use center resources. They can also order microfilm and microfiche for you from Salt Lake and offer training classes on a variety of genealogical research topics.)
I scanned through rolls of microfilm looking up names of deceased relatives in the Baltimore City Directories of 1895, 1898 and 1905. These are like pre-phone telephone books, listing addresses and businesses of residents. I found my great grandmother, Mary Nickel, and grandfather, John, in 1895 at the dairy farm she owned at what was then known as Point Breeze and later became Lever Bros. Other family members were listed as owners of various “saloons” in Highlandtown and Canton. In 1898, my great grandmother’s name was followed by the word “dairy” and my grandfather and one of his brothers were each listed as “drivers.” More saloons were listed for other members of the family. By 1905, my grandpop had abandoned the dairy and joined the realm of saloonkeepers with an address listed at 5th Av. (which turned out to be part of Point Breeze). My great grandmom was listed at the same address as “grocer.” Other members of the family had taken over the dairy. Quite a switch.
In 1910, I knew from previous research, they were residing on S. Clinton St. and operating a saloon and rooming house there. By 1914, my grandfather had bought the Nachmann Hotel on E. Baltimore St. (which “catered to theatrical people”). He married my grandmother on Feb. 14 of that year and my great grandmother was listed as a witness at their wedding at Sacred Heart of Jesus rectory (they couldn’t get married inside the church then because she was not Catholic). The newlyweds soon moved into the second floor of the hotel, which later became well known as “The Brokerage.” My mom, Marian, was born on Dec. 8, 1914 and she remembered as a child running down the halls of the hotel.
While I still don’t know the date of my great grandmother’s death or the place of her burial, pieces of her life are beginning to fall in place and I’m narrowing the time of her passing. My next trip will be to the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis to search for her death certificate. And I’ll surely return to the center on Stemmers Run Rd. to do additional research in this comfortable, convenient setting.
Why does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offer free access to their extensive library and encourage family research? “They do it because they are motivated by love for their deceased family members and desire to serve them,” their literature reveals. “Life does not end at death. When we die, our eternal spirits go to a spirit world, where we continue to learn while we await the Resurrection and Final Judgment. Members of the Church believe that the family can also continue beyond the grave, not just until death.”
Members of the Church believe that their deceased ancestors can also receive the blessings of being eternally united with their families. “For this purpose, Church members make covenants in temples in behalf of their ancestors, who may accept these covenants, if they so choose, in the spirit world. In order to make covenants in behalf of their ancestors, members must first identify them.”
Thus the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gathered genealogical records from all over the world and makes them available to the public.
Family History Centers, such as the one on Stemmers Run Rd., provide access to many records such as Social Security Death Index, United States Military Index, U.S. census records, and Personal Ancestral File, a computer program that allows patrons to organize their family history. For more information, call 410-686-6709 or 1-888-917-4848. Visit websites www.lds.org or www.kbyu.byu.edu/ancestors.html
Note: A correction to a previous article from local genealogist Christos Christou Jr.: In the Nov. 2, 2000 issue you mentioned that the census records are available back to 1920 “however most of that year was destroyed by fire.” That is incorrect. The 1920 census is available on microfilm and has been soundexed. The year which was destroyed by fire was 1890. The 1890 census only has parts available and mostly it is the pensioner’s list. I find your articles very interesting and look forward to the continuing series.” Thanks to Mr. Christou who also mentions the websites www.ancestry.com and familytreemaker.com.