Note: This is the first column in a series about local history resources.
While at the Fairfield Civic Center library one day, I was looking for a copy of the book “That Fabulous Captain Waterman” by David Weir. The computer said it was available, but I couldn’t find it. I asked librarian Linda Beckemeyer and she said “Oh, it’s probably in our local history section.”
“YOUR WHAT?!” I screamed incredulously. Actually I didn’t scream – unlike rude cell phone chatters, I was raised to be quiet in the library. But I did want to scream. How could a treasure trove of historical resources be right behind the reference desk that I so often frequent and I didn’t even know about it?
Although I am chiefly a humorian and not a historian, this column sometimes requires research. Serena Enger, Supervising Librarian at the Civic Center branch, happily highlighted resources in the local history section and others available at the library.
“Most of the items in our local history section are noncirculating because they are unique and out-of-print, but some have duplicates that do circulate,” Enger said. “Also, the state and university libraries usually have copies as well.”
The section has books, newsletters, directories, a video and much more. There are even cookbooks that church and civic organizations put together years ago and also the popular “Nut Tree Remembered: The Cookbook.”
One interesting resource is the Polk City Directories. They are like phone books on steroids.
“We don’t have a complete run of the city directories, but we have a pretty good collection. Since the county was so much smaller before World War II, the older ones include information on other parts of the county,” Enger said. “They list addresses, phone numbers and the head of household, which was usually the man. It could be the woman if she was a widow. They also include marital status and occupation which can be helpful in doing family research.”
Genealogical research is one of the reasons that patrons take advantage of the Local History Section. In addition to books and directories, the library also has databases.
“We are leasing a library edition of Ancestry.com. It can only be used inside the library, but the public is welcome to come in and use it and they offer an enormous amount of content – from family trees to numerous kinds of records. We debuted that service a month ago,” Enger said. “We also subscribe to Heritage Quest, which offers electronic books you can read online. It has the Freedman’s Bank records for African-American genealogical research and many books about doing family research.”
Another resource that I use often when crafting columns are the microfilm copies of the Daily Republic and other local newspapers that date back to the 1850s. I have been taken up on my offer to members of the “I Grew Up In Fairfield Too” Facebook group to look up items for them in the Daily Republic/Solano Republican microfilm. It turns out I’m not the only one.
“We get obituary requests from all over the world and looking them up or other articles in the microfilm is a service we do for free,” Enger said. “We do ask for a specific date or short date range and then email, mail or occasionally fax it.”
The library also has a collection of noncatalogued phone books from the 1970s as well as an extensive selection of yearbooks.
“We have nearly the entire run of the Armijo High School yearbooks starting at around 1916 and Fairfield High from the 1970s as well as ones from Rodriguez High. They don’t circulate, but can be viewed here,” Enger said. “When Councilman Matt Garcia was killed, news organizations from San Francisco and Sacramento asked for his yearbook and used it for their news stories.”
The one suggestion I might make for the library’s Local History section would be a conspicuous sign. Even though the abundant resources it contains cannot literally be “checked out,” I highly recommend checking out the section itself.
’Til next week, I’m history.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at email@example.com.