May 22, 2020
While I know I’m lucky to be weathering the pandemic safely so far with only the minor inconveniences of having to stay home nearly all the time or wearing a face mask when I have to go out for necessary errands, I do have to admit that some aspects of the pandemic and its attendant quarantine are starting to get to me. Particularly when it comes to my genealogy. For the first part of the quarantine, it was fairly easy to keep busy reviewing files and actually writing up findings, but eventually the call of research arose. Luckily, there are lots of online resources available – everything from FamilySearch and Ancestry to lots of local websites.
Eventually, however, those online resources pointed to other resources that are not online, or at least not in a form that can be accessed from home. For example, I’ve been digging into a story relating to my grandparents. They owned a property outside Ogden, Utah, where they’d built a home and developed a thriving fruit farm. The family story has always been that the family lost their home and farm to the city of Ogden when the city wanted to build a new municipal airport. I’ve never known exactly when this occurred, but my mother always said it was when she was about fifteen or sixteen years old. Although my mother and her siblings did speak of the loss of the farm, it seemed to have been a painful time, and they offered few details. Recently, with all of the time at home, I decided to see what I could find out about the situation. No one in the family who would remember the circumstances is still living, so I knew I’d need to find other sources.
Since the story involved an airport, I thought that I might be able to find something in the local newspaper about the circumstances of its construction. Luckily for me, the local Ogden newspaper, The Ogden Standard-Examiner, is readily available online. Since I knew that the time period when my mother was fifteen or sixteen was about 1939 through 1941, I started with Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/) because their collection covers that era. I was able to find a few interesting articles about the “new” airport that was being built in 1940 and even one that discussed the purchase of 80 acres from my grandparents that fall. Further digging online led me to other articles about the airport and its beginnings. Online articles about the Ogden Municipal Airport referenced letters and other documents in the special collections of both the University of Utah and Weber State University libraries. Sadly, both libraries are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic as is the local library which holds city and county directories that might shed some light on exactly when my grandparents moved to their farm.
With that avenue of research closed to me, I decided to check for deeds to see exactly when my grandparents bought their farm and when they sold it and how much they’d paid when they bought it and received for it when they sold it. I was also interested in the replacement farm they bought in the next town over. Did my grandparents pay for that or was it in their son’s name? The FamilyHistory catalog indicated that the library has deeds for the time period and county I needed. They’re conveniently digitized too, but access is only available at Family History Centers or the Family History Library, and both locations are currently closed with no re-opening date listed. That leaves calling the local county courthouse, but even I don’t have the nerve to do that right now. Most county offices are open, but most are also operating with minimal staff who can hardly be expected to give a genealogist’s non-urgent request priority. Ordinarily, my next step would be to plan a research trip to Utah, after all, it’s only about a seven hour drive, and I have plenty of relatives to visit. However, I think visiting a courthouse in person would be even less doable right now than calling or emailing one. Not to mention, my siblings are like me – getting older now, and I certainly wouldn’t want to endanger any of our health.
So, it looks like my little research project is going to have to be on hold for now – yet another casualty of the pandemic. Fortunately, not one with the drastic consequences of so many others. I’m keeping a list of sources I’d like to consult whenever it becomes possible, so eventually I hope I’ll find out more about my family’s lost farm. The whole thing does, however, serve as a reminder that not everything is online. There are a lot of sources that just aren’t available when the archives and libraries are closed and county offices are short staffed.
Researcher/Director at Large