Genealogy Center staff members are always answering the question, “Why genealogy in Fort Wayne?” So we thought a little bit of how our collection came to be in order. But the idea of having the largest genealogy collection in a public library did not spring into someone’s mind as a single idea, and it took a number of steps to build what we know today.
Less than a decade after the dedication of the Carnegie Library on West Wayne Street, the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution asked for, and was granted, space on the library’s shelves for copies of the society’s lineage books and other research material. Later, the chapter was encouraged to donate family or biographical histories to the DAR shelves, eventually building to about 400 volumes.
Another facet of the Center’s history involves two men, a station wagon and lots of road trips. During the 1930s and 1940s, library director Rex Potterf, and employee Fred Reynolds roamed the highways of the Midwest, visiting used book stores and estate sales, buying used books to stock the library. Among the fiction, general interest and children’s books were many family and county historical sources. But the actual formation of the Genealogy Department waited until Reynolds became Library Director, when the local DAR began encouraging the library to “do something for genealogists.” Reynolds responded by opening the Indiana History and Genealogy Room on January 3, 1961. The decades that followed saw the collection grow not only by donations and purchases, but also in untraditional methods. These methods included the photocopy exchange programs with researchers and other libraries, and arrangements such as the one with R.L. Polk & Company which supplied copies of the city directories the company published.
Of course, there is a great deal more to the history of the Collection in Dawne Slater-Putt’s Beyond Books: Allen County’s Public Library History, 1895-1995, from which this information has been taken, and future posts will provide snippets, but we in Fort Wayne are very proud of how all of the little pieces came together to create our facility. Far beyond a shelf and a station wagon, the Genealogy Center now accepts electronic files and indexes, and digitizes family Bible records, photographs, and military records for the various databases the Center’s webpage hosts. We’ve come so far in less than fifty years. Stay tuned for what comes next!