The Alton area is loaded with greater historical significance than any other community of its size in the Midwest. Its role in the Underground Railroad, its significance as the scene of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, the presence of historic abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy, Robert Wadlow’s fame as the world’s tallest man, and even his reputation for hauntings and supernatural occurrences are just some of the historical elements leading many to inquire about the facts and events that marked the town’s long heritage as well as their own family histories.
The Hayner Public Library District Genealogy and Local History Library offers a wealth of genealogy and local history resources that can support the research efforts of anyone wishing to explore their family history or examine the events of the historical past of the region. An extensive collection of information is available both at the library location and online. The spacious, calm and organized atmosphere of the library can serve as an inspiration to anyone, from the novice researcher to seasoned historians. A piece of Elijah P. Lovejoy’s original printing press is even on display in the building’s lobby.
Lacy McDonald is the facility’s genealogy and local history manager. McDonald earned his master’s degree in library information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and also holds a graduate certificate in rare book and special collection library science from the same institution.
“We welcome everyone to our library,” she says. “We are always happy to help you with your genealogy or local history research, but the Genealogy and Local History Library is a great place to write, study, print materials, or even just check your email. If you don’t have a Hayner library card, we can provide you with a pass so you can still use the computers and databases.
The Local Genealogy and History Library has 9,135 non-circulating items in its collection of family history books, films, and compilations. The library also has 3,535 property files on houses and businesses in the region. Additionally, it has 284 non-copyrighted books that it has digitized in-house and made available. McDonald says library staff can help patrons get started with genealogical and historical research. “People are often interested in the history of their home or the building in which their business is located as well as the history of their family,” she says. “It’s a way of layering the past onto the present.”
At the library itself, users can access the Ancestry Library Edition online database. The database contains historical information about families across the country. People can also search for archived editions of Illinois newspapers dating back to 1812. Fold3 Military Records is one of the available resources. Fold3 is a premier collection of original military records that includes personal stories, photos, and papers of men and women who served in the military.
The library’s website itself provides a wealth of free historical information with no requirement for a library card. Hayner’s digitized archives include local school yearbooks, city directories, local church histories, organizational minutes, and souvenir programs, all searchable textual. The Illinois Digital Archive’s Alton Area Local History Collection includes keyword-searchable photographs digitized by genealogy and local history library staff. The site also includes state genealogy guides, Madison County cemetery maps, and films and biographies of Elijah P. Lovejoy. Links to these resources are available by accessing the Online Resources option at haynerlibrary.org.
Branching Out genealogy webinars created by local genealogy and history library staff are also available. Topics include courthouse records, church records, newspaper research, genealogy databases, cemetery research, using social media for genealogy, and organizing your genealogy. In-person twig meetings are being held again at the library location after a hiatus due to COVID. Meetings are held the second and third Thursdays of each month at 10 a.m. at the library location.
The Hayner Library Genealogy and History Library also collaborated with the Alton School District to release Color Me Alton: Seasons, a multi-generational coloring book exploring the seasons in the Alton area. The coloring book is available for purchase for ten dollars at the library. In 2019, the library also collaborated with students to release a rhyming hardcover alphabet picture book, Alton ABC. Copies of the book are still available for purchase for $20.
The Hayner Genealogy and Local History Library is located at 401 State Street in Alton in the original Hayner Library building built in 1891. Library hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday , Thursday and Friday ; 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday and 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. The library can be reached by phone at 618-462-0677, option 3.