Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lost in Norfolk

Since I had planned to spend the holidays with my in-laws in Hampton Roads, I thought I would add a day to my trip so I could visit the local history library in Norfolk and work on my Aunt Delia research. Of course, when I made my plans a month ago, I knew to check ahead to be sure the library would be open when I was here – and it was. I also planned, in the month before Christmas, to gather and organize all my notes so I would know in advance exactly what to work on once I got into the library. And that’s where I failed!

Old City Hall building, now home to the Norfolk Library. Courtesy Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

So today I set off to the Sargeant Memorial Room in the Norfolk Library (above) with practically nothing. I knew where my family was living in 1880 when the photo was taken, and I knew the names of the people in their household and on their street. But that was pretty much it. And since I don’t know Delia’s last name, the usual indexes and directories weren’t that helpful.

Once I got there, I found a link to some great online information, like lists of people buried at several city-operated cemeteries. The helpful SMR staff told me which cemeteries were for African Americans, so that will narrow my search and hopefully keep me from spending time on white American Delias. But again, had I done my advance work, I would have had that already.

So unlike me to be so unprepared for a research outing.

But I will suggest this resource to anyone looking for their people in Norfolk and Portsmouth. The SMR has digitized dozens of city directories and put them on their website. The OCR recognition is pretty good so try searching with a specific name.

Cover of 1877-78 city directoy for Norfolk and Portsmouth. Courtesy Sargeant Memorial Room.

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