‘It’s like a playground.’ Historical Records Library invites guests to explore past

Manatee County’s historical records custodians are inviting locals to explore the keys to their past in a new series of genealogy workshops.

The county’s Historical Records Library hosted the first of what organizers say will develop into a regularly scheduled introduction to the documents, files and records available for residents to get a better sense of the area’s past.

“A lot of people didn’t know what we had here,” said Cathy Slusser, the county’s director of historical resources. “They thought it was just storage, but we have family history, land deeds and so much more.”

Slusser is looking to change that perception of the library, located at 1405 Fourth Ave. W. in Bradenton. In the future, similar tours and workshops are expected to be held quarterly, she explained.

Marriage licenses, historic maps, county commission minutes, archived copies of the Bradenton Herald and more can be found at the library. Records go back to 1855, when Manatee County was founded.

On Saturday, Slusser and her staff walked a small group of guests through the collection, explaining how archives can be used to figure out more information about an ancestor than a family tree can provide.

“Family trees often provide the skeleton of a person, and what we have here helps you put the flesh on the bones. You can learn about where the person worked and where they lived and what they did in their life,” said Slusser.

The Historical Records Library in Manatee County is planning to begin quarterly workshops that allow residents to work with staff to explore records related to genealogy and local history. The sessions are designed to accommodate guests who cannot visit the archives during weekday operations. Director Cathy Slusser (left) explains how to read Sanborn fire insurance maps. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

The sessions are designed to accommodate guests cannot visit during weekday hours and increase local awareness of what the Historic Records Library offers, said Clerk of the Circuit Court Angelina Colonneso.

“I’m just so happy that there’s an interest,” she said. “We need awareness and encourage younger generations to get involved.”

Slusser pointed to studies that have found genealogy research provides a closer connection to the community for residents and can reduce some forms of crime, such as vandalism.

A pair of a visitors from Tampa were looking for a different kind of connection at Saturday’s event. Omaria McCrae and her aunt, Tonia Walker-Singleton, traveled down to Bradenton to learn more about past relatives who lived in Parrish. Walker-Singleton squealed with glee as Slusser revealed that the archives include obituaries and land deed information.

“I’ve probably been looking through my family history for about 20 years, and it’s just nice to be here and find the connections to the information I already have,” said Walker-Singleton.

Records Librarian Krystin Miner (middle) helps Tonia Walker-Singleton (left) and Kate Holmes (right) sift through archived records at Saturday's genealogy workshop at the Manatee County Historical Records Library. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

“I just found who sold property to my great grandmother in 1967,” she added. “That gives me more work to do now because I want to know who these people are.”

Kate Holmes, of Sarasota, is working on a historical fiction novel that takes place in late 19th century Manatee, she explained, and is hoping to create more a more accurate portrayal of the setting.

“I did a lot of research online, but I wanted to come see some of this stuff in person,” Holmes said. “It’s like a playground.”

The Historical Records Library is open to visitors on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit ManateeClerk.com or call (941) 741-4070.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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