I love research. Send me off to the deepest basements in county records buildings near or far, and I’m one happy camper. Yes, these caverns are mostly cold and creepy; yes, you risk running a gauntlet of misinformed clerks who don’t mind sending you on wild goose chases. But, oh, the rewards! Proof that Uncle Joe filed that handwritten water rights claim in 1882 or discovering Grandpa’s mother was no blood-kin to him—these hoped for or unexpected facts are waiting to be unearthed in these uninviting places and are well worth the hunt.

The good news is that these searches are not always in dark and dreary confines, helpful assistance is more the norm than uninterested administrators, and by becoming a member in a historical or genealogy society, you can tear down ‘brick walls’ and take your family history projects to a new level.

What are some of the benefits of joining these societies? For starters, if you’re new to researching your family, staff and volunteers are ready to guide and advise you on the best methods of collecting and organizing the information you need. The depth and breadth of their knowledge and expertise on local history, individuals and families is often a treasure—the key to trove is simply asking questions.

If you have been diligently leafing your family tree and are familiar with how to find the information you want, it’s still beneficial to become a member of local societies. What’s better than having a network of historians who are just as passionate as you are to celebrate with when you have those Eureka! moments? Your own family may question your sanity as you victory-dance upon finding your great-grandparents’ Irish marriage license, but your society pals will rejoice with you!

Along with the camaraderie, being a member of a historical society can also take you places. Remember how fun it was to go on field trips when you were in school? It’s just as fun now! When your research needs go beyond what can be found in Carpinteria or Santa Barbara, hopping on a bus to Los Angeles area repositories and museums or making the ‘big trip’ to Salt Lake City is less hassle, less expensive, and more enjoyable than making the trip by yourself.

Added bonuses of membership include monthly meetings and educational seminars, monthly or quarterly newsletters and publications, workshops and gift shop discounts. But the glittering gold is gaining access to libraries brimming with local and world events, periodicals, yearbooks, city directories and a host of archives guaranteed to keep you busy for years.   

We are fortunate to have two great resources nearby for expanding our knowledge of the lives our ancestors led—The Carpinteria Valley Historical Society and the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society. The CVHS, at home in the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History at 956 Maple Ave., is led by director/curator David Griggs, and he and his army of friendly volunteers are ready to assist in your research. Along with local and family histories, the research library holds maps, an extensive collection of photographs depicting Carpinteria’s pioneers and development, and a rarely found archive of hundreds of hours of tape-recorded oral history interviews recollecting on life in the early days of our town. Want to listen in on those? Individual memberships start at only $25, a bargain in any market.

The Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society is housed in the Sahyun Library at 316 Castillo St. The library is open to the public and contains tens of thousands of books, including school yearbooks and city directories. When your family tree research needs long arms, this is the place to go as you will find books, genealogical histories, periodicals, maps and microfiche representing every state in the union, as well as numerous countries. Membership dues start at $40, and make you privy to general meetings, tutorials and classes, along with granting computer lab access to a host of online genealogy websites, monthly newsletters and quarterly publications.

So, what are you waiting for? Visit these societies in person or online at carpinteriahistoricalmuseum.org and sbgen.org and discover what you have been missing.

Lisa Lombardi O’Reilly has lived in Carpinteria since 1997 and is a personal and family historian specializing in making heirloom books out of life stories. She is a member of the Association of Personal Historians, the National Genealogical Society and the Association for Professional Genealogists. For more information, visit yourstorieswritten.com and facebook.com/lisa.lombardioreilly; send an email to lloreillybooks@aol.com; or call Lisa at (805) 680-7375.

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