Local history buff? Get connected with the Smith Library of Regional History

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Sue Bartow was already familiar with the Smith Library of Regional History when she took a course on genealogy through Miami University’s Institute for Learning in Retirement. She’d been there several times to look into her own family history, but she hadn’t fully engaged with it because her family isn’t from Butler County.

Brad Spurlock, the manager at Smith, taught the series on genealogy. After getting a chance to tour the library and learn more about the variety of services it offers, Bartow realized that there were still plenty of resources available to her at the library despite her family being from a different area.

“It really gave me a good feel for what was there,” Bartow said. “Plus ... the staff just made me aware of databases that I could use through them or at their place.”

Whether you’re looking into your own family tree, local history or the story of your property, Smith Library has the tools and the experts available to help you on your search.

Getting connected

Spurlock manages both Smith and the Cummins Local History Room. Smith is located on the second floor of the Oxford Lane Library at 441 South Locust St., and the Cummins Room is in the Hamilton Lane Library at 300 North 3rd St. Both locations contain a number of resources including cemetery indexes, maps, photo collections and more.

While both locations have special collections of resources, only Smith has an archive. Spurlock said the difference comes down to the type of record.

“Special collections is books,” Spurlock said. “Archives is paper files, usually photographs, other types of things.”

While the exact resources available at either location vary, Spurlock heads them both up and said he works to make sure people get connected with what they’re looking for. People interested in accessing the resources at either location can go in person or reach out through email at history@lanepl.org. Some materials can even be scanned and sent via email rather than having to go in-person.

“Anything that’s accessible [at Smith] is accessible at the Cummins Room unless it’s doesn’t live there,” Spurlock said. “If it lives [at Smith], then our staff will communicate with each other and somehow get the patron access to whatever is.”

Personal research

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Spurlock said people who come to Smith, located on the second story of the Oxford Lane Library, to do their own research, fit generally into three categories: property history, genealogy and local history. Each type of inquiry is different, but Spurlock and his staff are prepared to help in whatever way they can.

“We’ll get ‘What’s the history of this business?’ or ‘This event happened in 1950-something and my picture was in the paper. Can you find it?’” Spurlock said. “We’ll do that kind of thing, photographs of certain things or people.”

  • Property records: The most intensive of the research requests, looking into a property’s history can take Spurlock and his staff weeks or months. They begin with public records available online through the Butler County Auditor, Engineer’s Office and more before sorting through historic directories. By the end of the process, they’ll be able to create a timeline including history of ownership, architectural style, structural changes, neighborhood history and any available photos.
  • Genealogy: For local families, the library has its own collections including church and cemetery records, Butler County birth, death and marriage records and more. The library also offers free access to ancestry.com and other genealogy databases on its computers for residents looking to dig into their own family history beyond Butler County.
  • Local history: Some of the most common pieces of local history Spurlock helps people find are related to Oxford’s Black history. People often come in looking for historic atlases, as well, and the archive room boasts the first complete map of Butler County, created in 1836.

Educational outreach

Beyond helping community members with their own research, Spurlock and his team also do frequent educational outreach. For people who don’t have a specific inquiry but want to learn more about local history, a number of opportunities are coordinated through Smith.

  • Quarterly Programs: Spurlock runs a program centered on a topic in local history at each of the three main Lane Library locations (Hamilton, Oxford and Fairfield) in the fall, winter and spring. These programs go in-depth on topics ranging from Hamilton’s history as the safe capital of the world to genealogy and archiving workshops.
  • Talks: Spurlock regularly speaks at historic societies and other organizations across the county interested in specific topics. Recent talks have included the history of the Venice Pavilion for the Ross Township Historical Society and a discussion about the industrial history of Hamilton for the Boys and Girls Club.
  • Oxford Area Historic Walking Tours: Every September, Spurlock leads three walking tours through Oxford. The events run on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to roughly noon, and they go in-depth on the history of specific neighborhoods in Oxford.
  • Cemetery Tours: Spurlock and his staff are working to launch a new annual cemetery tour this October. They hope to make it an annual event around dusk that follows a set route through notable headstones and shares the history of those buried there.

About the Author