Meet Our Genealogy & Local History Specialist
October is Family History Month, which means now is the perfect time to start researching your family tree. If you ever feel overwhelmed or get stuck during the process Gretchen, WPL’s Genealogy & Local History Specialist, can help! Get to know Gretchen a little better below, and don’t forget to visit our Genealogy and Local History pages to learn about the many ways the library can assist you with your research.
How long have you been WPL’s Genealogy & Local History Specialist and what is your favorite part of this job?
I’ve been an Adult Services Librarian at WPL since 2014 and the Genealogy & Local History Specialist since 2020. My favorite part of the job is helping people solve tricky research puzzles—whether that’s identifying an old photo or breaking through a genealogical brick wall!
What is your number one piece of advice for someone just starting to build their family tree?
When you’re searching for information about someone, always be openminded about names, places, and dates. Many beginning researchers tend to treat old records as absolute truth, but they’re not! Guesses, lies, mistakes, faulty memory, language barriers, geographical boundary changes, and bad handwriting are just some of the reasons why the information you find might not be the information you expect.
Is there a hidden gem in WPL’s genealogy and local history collection you wish more patrons knew about?
If you want to know where your relatives lived or when they moved, telephone directories can be invaluable to fill in the gaps between census years. Even if you’ve seen the Wheaton telephone directories we have in print going back to the 1950s, you may not realize we also have telephone directories on microfilm covering the entire Chicago suburbs from 1920-1971.
Is there a common point in the research process patrons usually get stumped? Do you have any suggestions for working past that point?
If you’re having difficulty finding records about a particular ancestor, consider researching their family, neighbors, or other associates for clues.
Outside of genealogy and local history are there other topics you enjoy researching?
I love learning about the history of science, especially medicine and forensics. I also love researching the historical and cultural contexts behind the books and TV shows I enjoy—lately I’ve been watching a ton of Chinese historical dramas and learning about Chinese history.
Do you have a TBR list?
Yes, my TBR list is currently at 248 books and I’m adding new ones faster than I can read them! I pretty much always stick to my list, but I often end up reading the more recent additions first.
Ready to get started with the library's local history and genealogy resources? Email Gretchen at email@example.com to make an appointment.