After her mother died in 1979, Mary Helen Allen felt an obligation to complete what her mother had started: researching the family’s history
“You just kind of get hooked,” said Allen, a librarian at the Genealogical Society of Boone County and Central Missouri.
Now 80, Allen is still learning new information about her ancestry.
“I never liked history in school, or geography, but now, I see what it’s all about,” she said.
Genealogy is a hobby that can be incorporated into everyday free time. Two locations in Columbia have resources that can help visitors dig into their own family history.
Genealogical Society of Boone County and Central Missouri
The Genealogical Society of Boone County and Central Missouri offers resources to anyone curious about their family background. From looking through volumes of historical material to exploring nearby cemeteries, there are several ways the public can interact with the society
The Genealogical Society library is located in the Boone County History and Culture Center, 3801 Ponderosa St. in Columbia. Visitors can use the library from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Volunteers are available to help visitors get started, find relevant information and share opportunities to get more involved beyond family history.
More than 2,500 books are stacked on bookshelves from floor to ceiling in the library. With names, addresses, biographies and more filling each book, Allen said there are numerous ways to encounter the unexpected.
Services offered to the public are mostly free, Allen said. Completing research and soliciting advice are free. But users should expect to pay to make copies, purchase books or ask a researcher to locate information.
The Boone County History and Culture Center lends the space the Genealogical Society uses. The two have worked together by assisting in research beyond what is available at the location.
Limited information can be accessed directly through the center‘s website.
Since 1975, the society has also offered memberships that include additional benefits to help research family history, including a monthly newsletter and quarterly journal.
Members can expect to help preserve books, perform technical services and gather information others may be able to use in the future. The group meets monthly to discuss upcoming projects and events.
Allen said those with memberships get the reward of helping people find information, as well as having a place to be social and share knowledge.
State Historical Society of Missouri
Across town, the State Historical Society of Missouri, 605 Elm St. in Columbia, also provides a range of services for those interested in genealogy research.
The organization was founded in 1898 by the Missouri Press Association, which wanted to collect and preserve Missouri newspapers. Since then, research has expanded beyond newspapers into art, oral histories, manuscripts, maps and references.
“We are happy to share our expertise in a way that works for them,” said Tatyana Shinn, assistant director of reference.
Genealogists and researchers can use their resources in person and remotely, Shinn said. Employees are available to help navigate collections, find materials and develop a strategy for research.
While there is a fee for using remote services, employees can pull relevant materials and send them to a customer either digitally or by mail.
The only fee for in-person services is scanning pages. To avoid the cost, most researchers use a digital camera or cellphone to document pages, Shinn said.
The research tab under the Historical Society’s website is a good place to start, Shinn said. Research guides to genealogy help visitors navigate and understand what they can find in the lab compared to other repositories.
“If somebody’s wanting to see what we’ve got, we help them find a strategy on where to look and how to look for specific pieces of information,” Shinn said.
Remote workshops are available to support those just beginning a genealogical journey. Workshops give a basic introduction to genealogy, explain how to conduct research, introduce the available resources and more.
Other workshops cover involvement in the Historical Society, using newspapers for research, accessing government documents and preserving family photographs.
“We really get excited about these topics,” Shinn said. “We will dig and dig and dig for hours, trying to help the patron as best as we can.”
Although the Historical Society is based in Columbia, five other locations can be found throughout the state for access to materials from nearly anywhere in Missouri.
The Columbia location is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. It is closed Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.