Rosa Avolio stood in front of the rows of bookshelves and couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I could not conceive that (these bookshelves) would get done,” said Avolio, a member of the IT committee for the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society.
The bookshelves are among recent renovations to the Sahyun Library, maintained by the Genealogical Society. The property, at 316 Castillo St., has undergone construction that was funded almost entirely from community donations.
The Genealogical Society, made up mostly of members age 60 or older, pulled together to create items such as the bookshelves while contractors worked on the structure.
“I’m the baby, so I often get a hard time (from the older community),” Avolio said.
The volunteer-based staff worked to re-create four bookshelves that mirrored the four previous units. From scratch, a team of retired nurses, engineers and other community members cut, sanded, constructed and smoothed the new bookshelves.
The Sahyun Library has undergone renovations to expand the space available for the Genealogical Society’s growing collection. The library includes publications donated from all around the world to help people trace their genealogical roots. It will be able to accommodate a library of what is now more then 4,500 books, 100 microfiche and 1,000 microfilm containing death and birth certificates, maps, atlases, periodicals, family history records and locality records.
The Genealogical Society started with a small number of members and over time grew to about 500. In the early days, members would meet periodically at members’ homes and nearby centers. They would bring books to each meeting that included information about genealogy and family histories. That marked the start of the Sahyun Library collection, which is now the largest collection between Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to Kathie Morgan, the Genealogical Society’s volunteer library director.
Members now meet monthly to plan events and maintain their efforts with the library.
A private grand opening celebration is planned for Sunday — just in time for Family History Month in October, during which 25 classes are scheduled. Public open houses will be held Oct. 22 and 23.
The classes will cover such topics as ancestry, specific computer technical skills and a prelude to Ellis Island. Members who share a distinct interest in that field teach the classes, according to Avolio.
“They all sound so interesting,” Morgan said. “I wish I could take all of them.”
Avolio said the courses have been well received by the community.
“One of my classes already has a waiting list, and other classes are full already,” she said.
In addition to the classes, the Genealogical Society plans to continue a number of its other programs. One such program includes working with the home-school network and elementary schools to help find genealogical roots and talk about resources available in the Sahyun Library.
Morgan said the events are intended to get more people interested in finding their genealogy and to show them how to do so properly. While some people have come to the Genealogical Society with their findings from the Internet, she said that often those findings are incorrect — going online and looking at ancestry does not verify that it’s actually your ancestor.
“That’s the downside to technology,” said Morgan, adding that everyone researches through the Internet for his or her genealogy and think they’re related to famous historians. “In some cases it’s true, but most of the time it’s not.”
Avolio said that although people can find some of the information needed online to trace genealogical roots, it’s “about holding a book in your hands (to discover your roots).”
The Genealogical Society is making good use of technology. With the new renovations, it tripled its computer lab to nine computers from three, and the newly constructed library features tables with laptop accommodations, Avolio said.
With the computers, someone can research at home which types of records they need and search for them on the Genealogical Society’s library database. All books and records are cataloged according to proper library cataloging.
Additionally, technology has helped speed up the process of discovering one’s genealogical roots.
“I’m fascinated by how generations have taken technology and used it to the max,” said Avolio, adding that she hopes people will take advantage of the available resources. “We want people in here every day researching and using our resources.”
She and Morgan emphasized that Genealogical Society volunteers are more than willing to help anyone in their search for their genealogical roots.
“(We’re) all just people wanting to help other people,” Morgan said.
Click here for more information about the Genealogical Society’s Family History Month activities and other events.