How the Library Helped Me Find My Family

Posted on June 14, 2016

by Heather H

Family History

Sometimes, you’re simply at a loss for words when it comes to expressing gratitude. I had one of those moments recently when Donna Christian, from our Local History Department, walked me through the resources available at the Library for conducting genealogy research. Quite literally, she helped me find my family. How do you repay or even thank someone for that?

I lost my paternal grandmother Kathleen (Shanahan) Hoffman – fondly known by me as “Grandma Bootsie”- to a car accident when I was about four years old. My grandfather did survive but came away with serious injuries. Though I never had the chance to get to know her, throughout my life, various family members have told me how much I remind them of her. Here are a few photos of her and my grandfather in the 1940s (that’s their friend Bill, on furlough, in the right hand photo – I found a fun series from when they must’ve had a small celebration at the park with their friends for his return). 

One thing that always touched me, was how after her passing, my grandfather never touched her things left in the bedroom (clothing, hats, jewelry, etc.). They remained there until he died when I was in sixth grade. He slept on the sofa in the living room and moved his clothing downstairs. We were also not allowed to go into that room – I ventured in once to look at her things and grandpa caught me and kindly asked me to please not go in there again. I always wondered if the memories of her were too painful for him to go into their old bedroom. I certainly know that they were quite the twosome. Together they purchased and ran a local general store in Helena, Ohio. They really were partners in love and life!

What I have learned about my grandmother was that she was a night owl, was according to my family a “bleeding heart” and always wanted to help those in need (human or animal), was the last one to leave the party, and had a feisty side – maybe from her Irish heritage. I guess that does sound like me! I asked my dad about her family and sadly, he didn’t have many details. They mostly kept in touch with the Hoffman side, and after her passing, saw less and less of the Shanahan side.  

Genealogy Research


I brought what little information I had to Donna in Local History, and she worked her magic to help put the rest of the puzzle together. I was able to find names, birth certificates, census records, marriage records, occupations, and even find some death records for her mother (Hadie – interesting name!), father (Frank), and both sets of her grandparents.

I’m just getting started on my genealogy research, but I’ve already discovered so many interesting things about my family. For example, my great grandfather was a metal smith/forge worker – something I’ve always been interested in learning. Most importantly, I was able to locate the area in Ireland where my grandmother’s family was from – the beautiful city of Limerick! I can’t wait to begin learning more about this area of the world, where my ancestors were born and raised.

Donna and the Library have given me an irreplaceable gift. I now feel like I have a greater part of my grandmother – this woman whom so many have compared me to. I may not have had the time to truly get to know her as I would have wished, but the Library has helped me know more of her – and that is something that I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Immigrant Heritage

Ironically, June is Immigrant Heritage Month – what a fitting time for me to begin researching my ancestors. I encourage you to do the same! Our region has a rich immigrant history, and I’m sure you’ll uncover interesting things you never knew before. Follow Welcome Toledo-Lucas County on Facebook for stories and other pieces of information on this very topic.

Should you consider searching your family history – or any other type of genealogical records – don’t be afraid to rely on your Library for assistance. From databases to yearbooks to books on conducting research, we have so many (FREE) resources to offer, not to mention an expert and caring staff who will truly take the time to help you.  

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