Brockway library presents new methods of accessing genealogies and old newspapers

BROCKWAY — Have you ever wondered if you are descended from someone famous? Do you ever wonder if your great-great grandparents did something significant — fought in a war, served in the political system, immigrated to America with nothing but the clothes on their backs or started their own business?

If you want to find out, you may have to travel only as far as your local library. The Mengle Memorial Library in Brockway presented a genealogies program last Tuesday.

The program, which is run through Heritage Quest, can be accessed either at the library itself — along with every other library in Jefferson County — or from the comfort of your own home, online at, provided you have a valid library card handy.

“You know how you’ve seen all those commercials for, and they make it all look so easy?” said Barb Emmer, who presented the feature at the library. “I’m here to tell you that we have an easier product.”

The program first debuted a few years back, but was cut due to budgetary concerns. It was reinstated about six months ago. Free of charge, it provides everyone with a unique number found on their library cards a way to access Heritage Quest’s database via that number.

It works in six core data fields, accessible through tabs on the top of the Heritage Quest home page:

1. Census — the presentation emphasized that the date given for the census is important. Everything that happened before that date is considered to be real for that particular census, whereas everything that happened after is not. Therefore, if the census taker arrived two days late, and someone had died or been born in the meantime, that fact will not show on that census. It is also crucial that names be input into the search engine exactly as they were. The census also only indexes by heads of households, sometimes making it difficult to find female ancestors.

2. Books — Heritage Quest contains seven million unique pages about local and family histories.

3. PERSI — this is the database that contains magazines, periodicals and other publications. The search results are presented in reverse chronological order, and they do not provide digitized articles, which must be sent for at a price.

4. Freedman’s Bank — this tab contains records from a post-Civil War bank for freed slaves.

5. Revolutionary War — this tab contains documentation related to the war, including names of veterans.

6. Serial Set — this tab contains documents, reports, proposed legislation, executive orders and other written materials from houses of government. It can be used to find ancestors who worked somewhere in the political system.

Using the program, Emmer located her grandfather, Carl Emmer, in a census form and found that he was a glass worker who owned rather than rented a house that he appeared to have paid off in full by the time of the census.

Fellow presenter Leslie Barr also demonstrated a program, one allowing individuals to access digitized copies of local newspapers throughout history. Old issues of The Punxsutawney Spirit, for instance, can be found at Upon arrival at the website — the Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository — one need only input the newspaper’s name into the search bar, select Jefferson County Newspapers on the resulting sidebar and choose a page to view.

Barr also demonstrated how to find digitized copies of The Reynoldsville Star. It can be found on the website of the Library of Congress at To find the paper, click Digital Collections on the home page; from there, go to the Historic Newspapers tab; click the Advanced Search button; from there, the paper can be found either through a keyword search or a search by state. It will be listed as The Star rather than The Reynoldsville Star.

Both The Punxsutawney Spirit and The Reynoldsville Star can be found online free of charge without a library card. This is not the case with The Brockway Record, which was also part of the presentation. It can be accessed only on the computers at the library.

Parts of the paper are accessible online at the historical society. However, its database is restricted primarily to obituaries and marriage announcements.

To access the newspaper at the library, one must click on The Brockway Record folder located on the desktop, double click on Multi-page and double click on the year of the paper in question.

The library system would like to thank The Punxsutawney Spirit and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The project was funded by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries.