January 2, 2009 — Stroll under a blue-sky canopy and a stately wooden arch into the local history department tucked away in the northeast corner of the Library Center. There, you'll find an extensive collection of histories, treatises, genealogies, volumes of all kinds, bound in respectful blacks, grays and browns befitting their dignity and seriousness.
Midway and toward the back, you'll notice a contrast, a rainbow hue of thick books bound in a wide assortment of crayon-colored covers, about 39 linear feet of shelving packed with what staff appreciatively and respectfully refer to as Dr. Hall's Index.
These 225 volumes represent one of the most important and valuable tools the Springfield-Greene County Library District can offer its genealogical patrons, said Local History Librarian Michael Glenn. Officially called "Abstracts and Index of Items of Genealogical Interest," the books contain something like three million (!) clippings of obituaries, marriages, births and divorce announcements printed in Springfield newspapers between 1865 and 2006.
Springfield native and retired dermatologist Dr. William K. Hall, now a St. Louis resident, began indexing these items in the 1940s from Springfield newspapers for his own personal research as a genealogist. "Dr. Hall took it upon himself to provide our libraries as well as others in the state with these colorfully hardbound copies of his work every year," said Glenn. "It's truly a unique collection and rare that a library would be provided such a comprehensive and extensive resource."
The work is not only of interest to those researching their family trees. "It's valuable to people trying to contact classmates, or to find out about past tragedies. The clippings have helped birth parents reunite with their children and locate long-lost relatives. The information has provided clues for research into all kinds of events and is a way to confirm dates," said Glenn. "The books have saved researchers countless hours in time spent searching through multiple documents."
As valuable as this printed resource is to those who can get to the Library Center (and to a limited collection at the Library Station), digitizing the data and placing it online will reach a far wider audience. With generous financial support from Dr. Hall, the library's computer services department has already started this momentous task.
"The potential this project has for aiding online research is incredible," says Glenn. For more information about Dr. Hall's Index, visit the Library Center or contact local history staff at 883-5341.
-Jeanne Duffey, Community Relations Director, Springfield-Greene County Library District.
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