Library’s microfilm reader, resident history buff help amateur genealogists unearth local roots

from the Kingfisher Times & Free Press
Monday, July 19, 1999

(Reprinted with permission from the Kingfisher Times & Free Press)
For several reasons, genealogy has become a popular hobby in Kingfisher County recently.
 
Kingfisher Memorial Library has just the resources necessary to help people put branches on their family trees. They are microfilm and Gary Williams.
 
Kingfisher’s library has microfilm dating back more than 110 years ranging from several area newspapers to Census Bureau findings. Williams is the man who can help people with the machine and their discoveries.
Williams’ official title is special collections librarian, but he has put in more than his share of hours searching his family tree and those of others.
 
A special project he has been working on for two years has helped him learn the ancestry of several local people.
Williams has been working to restore an old cemetery located in the old township of Greenwood, located eight miles west and two-and-one-half north of Kingfisher.
 
Weeds and trees had grown over the standing tombstones while other tombstones had fallen to the ground. Williams has been cleaning up the cemetery and in the meantime, researching the names he’s finding on the tombstones.
 
He discovered one was a Civil War veteran and also that two women buried near each other were both over 100 years-old when they died.
 
His discoveries are made in the library, thanks to some film and a $13,000 setup.
 
“I have been surprised of the descendants around here I’ll find of the people buried in the cemetery,” Williams said.
 
“After I set up the stones, I’ll look up their names either in an old obituary or in the Census collections. The old papers and Census records are things that help me with the work I do out there.”
 
Newspapers on microfilm date back to the late 1800s and come from Kingfisher, Cashion, Dover, Kiel (now Loyal), Okarche and Hennessey among others.
 
Williams said he gets a kick out of looking through the old newspapers.
 
“It’s a lot more fun to sit here and read an old newspaper than it is a new one.”
 
One interesting article he found was from the Kiel Record in the early 1900s. On its front page was a listing of every student in the school – and their grades.
 
“Imagine someone trying to do that now,” Williams said.
 
***
 
Eight years ago Williams may have seen two people a month come in the library wanting to research their family history.
 
“In the past week alone, we’ve had five groups of people come in during a single day wanting to do research.”
 
Williams credits several things for this newfound interest in genealogy. One is the publication of the book based on the movie “Roots” while another is due to a PBS special on family histories.
 
“Both of those have sparked public interest in family histories.
 
“Other people are wanting to use it to earn benefits. A lot of people can get money if they can prove they are a certain percentage Indian or if their family members are veterans.”
 
He said people who find out they have a disease or sickness begin research and discover they have a family history in those cases.
 
The amount of information to be read is nearly infinite, he said.
 
All of that information is stashed away on tiny film in tiny drawers in a tiny room in the back of the library and is just waiting to be read, Williams said.
 
Williams said the machine and all its microfilm will be on display at the county free fair, which is coming next month at the county fairgrounds.
 
“People who are interested in looking up an ancestor can do so right there.”
 
Meanwhile, the microfilm is always open to the public during regular library hours.
 
“Anyone who wants to can come in here and do their research.”

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