Westmoreland Historical Society library reopens at new center
Celebrities may turn to the popular PBS series “Finding Your Roots” for help in tracing their family trees.
People from all walks of life who are searching for information about their ancestors can once more take advantage of a local resource — the Westmoreland Historical Society’s Calvin E. Pollins Memorial Library.
Closed since November, the library has reopened in the society’s new History Education Center, located on the grounds of Historic Hanna’s Town in Hempfield. Volunteers recently finished moving the library collection from the historical society’s former home on Sand Hill Road in Unity.
During the closure, the society still accepted research requests and library coordinator Anita Zanke continued to answer general inquiries from phone callers. Now, visitors once again will be able to explore the library’s extensive collection of genealogical resources in person.
“Genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America,” Zanke said. “Although we do have researchers using our library for a variety of purposes — students, professors, Marcellus shale researchers, authors and people tracing historic properties — most visitors are researching their family trees.
“You can find more and more things online now, but people still want to come and walk on the soil where their ancestors walked.”
Zanke, a retired social studies teacher at Kiski Area School District, recently helped residents of Philadelphia and Kentucky locate properties in the county their ancestors once owned.
Last year, the library assisted more than 200 researchers from 30 states as well as England, Australia and Thailand. “You meet people from all over,” Zanke said.
The library’s shelves and cabinets hold more than 3,000 files on local family histories and 600 donated family history books. The collection also includes photographs, maps, atlases, early land and tax records, cemetery records, church histories and a microfilm collection of early newspapers. Records of county school officials and teachers reach back to 1906.
“We also have Pennsylvania history resources, and we do have some information on neighboring states,” said Lisa Hays, the society’s executive director.
Rarer books that aren’t available for public research are kept in a storage area at the center.
The library temporarily occupies half of the center’s 3,000-square-foot education room.
It’s not as large as the previous space in Unity, but Hays pointed out it’s now conveniently located at Historic Hanna’s Town, the society’s recreation of Westmoreland’s first colonial-era county seat.
“You look out the window and you see Westmoreland history,” she said.
Tours of the historical attraction are included in the fee of $8 per day those who aren’t society members are charged to use the library. The education center also includes a gift shop and a space for rotating exhibits.
A show provided by the Westmoreland Photographers Society is the current feature.
Appointments are required to see the society’s archives and curatorial collections, due to the fragile nature of some objects.
The historical society is wrapping up a fundraising campaign for the education building and renovation of an adjacent farmhouse that contains the society’s offices. Those projects cost just under $3 million.
Hays said a more modest campaign is envisioned to raise money for a proposed 2,500-square-foot addition to the center that would provide a dedicated space for the library and an indoor area for displaying the society’s Conestoga wagon, which dates from the late 18th century.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .