Tackling National History Day

NHD initials above two red bars, interspaced with National History Day text

By Deborah B.

It’s not cheating! 

September is around the bend, bringing refrigerators adorned with leaf collages, stink bugs, and virtual football parties with snacks of imaginary calories. It also catapults middle and high school students into the vast expanse that is the National History Day Project, a year-long exploration of an historical topic where students analyze the topic’s immediate and long term impact and its connection to the annual theme, then create a structured presentation model showcasing their extensive research and conclusions in a national competition for grades, glory, and potential monetary awards. Piece of cake.

Parents, do not hit the liquor cabinet! We are here to help! Seriously, it is not cheating for students to get research and analysis assistance. Teachers and parents are frequently tapped, but there is a local, free, natural habitat for history and research nerds eager to help search for buried sources… Howard County Library System.

This year’s theme is Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. How do people exchange information and interact with each other? Think of the act of communicating, the motivation for the communication, the who or what the communication affects. Think of how we struggle with conveying meaning today, even without Zoom calls.

Our virtual classes such as Topic Development and Maximize Your History Day Research offer insights into these questions and others relating to the theme. In October, the NHD Thesis Workshop is a safe mosh pit for students to deconstruct, reconstruct, and beat the heck out of their arguments until they are honed enough to substitute as historical reenactment weapons. Well, maybe not that sharp. Our classes, databases, and collection resources are also not cheats. National History Day encourages students to create a reliquary of history-hunting tools.

Also, these classes are not exclusive to NHD students! We welcome parents and teachers and all teens interested in upgrading their critical thinking skills. In addition, we will host a complement of news literacy performance training. Beware aged opinions. Ideas and thinking can stagnate, even ideas originally based on empirical evidence. Have there been new discoveries? Is there new data? Healthy, critical thinking requires stimuli and exercise, and we coach students through bias obstacles and teach strategies to combat fallacies and fear of opposing viewpoints.

In the next few weeks, somewhere in the county, a child will be assigned a NHD project. There is hope! Our mission, aside from mixing as many metaphors as possible in this blog post, is to help students achieve their academic potential. A small donation of the student’s time rewards them with research guidance and alleviates a librarian suffering from an overabundance of historical minutia. So, go online or call to register for one of our fall NHD classes as soon as they open.

Remember, it’s not cheating.

Deborah B. is a triple threat nerd of books, history, and actual triplets. 

Research Your Genealogy with Resources from HCLS

The picture depicts an old book, with underlining and notes in the margins, and a vintage black and white photograph of a young woman standing on a bench in front of a ship.

By Rebecca W.

Remember when genealogy records first started popping up online? When you were finally able to research those mysterious New England ancestors without actually driving to New England, or even worse, calling someone on the telephone? And then remember how you jumped on your computer and, within hours, had a complete record of your family tree? Yah, me neither… But recently, with a little extra time on my hands, I got the itch to give it a try. After a number of – let’s face it – failed attempts, I can confidently report that I’ve caught the “genealogy bug.”

So, what brought on this sudden urge to research? Free, I repeat FREE, access to genealogy records through HCLS. If you’re anything like me (a total cheapskate), you just can’t turn down free. Though these resources have always been offered by our system, a limited time offer from ProQuest for at-home access to Ancestry.com library edition (previously available only in the branches) makes now the perfect time to start for all of our cardholders. 

Ancestry.com is truly a great resource for genealogy research, but it can easily lead a novice down the wrong path. So where to start? Well, I decided to search the names of random ancestors without a whole lot of other information. I did not have an organized plan of attack. My suggestion: start with a timeline. I mean a physical timeline. Not, “oh, I have an idea in my head,” or “yah, I know when so-and-so was born.” Check out Ancestry’s “Creating Timelines that Produce Answers Guide” to see best practices for using your timeline, including evaluating sources and tracking your ancestor’s migrations (from the Ancestry.com homepage, click Learning Center and scroll to the Getting Started section). 

Now, my number one piece of advice… check multiple sources! You will be surprised at how many birth certificates, marriage records, draft registration cards, you name it, will look like they fit into your family tree, but are actually unrelated. If you think you found the marriage certificate for your great-grandparents, make sure you can cross-check a solid number of facts on there. Do you have another source that verifies their age when the certificate was issued? Is their place of birth listed on the marriage record? Do you have a birth certificate to back that up? What about their parents’ names? You get my point: never take a source at face value. 

While there is a bit of a learning curve to genealogical research, these online tools really help with the heavy lifting. With just a day of searching, I was able to find information on my family tree that my relatives didn’t even know. Hopefully this post sparked a little curiosity and you are ready to start your search. Make sure to look at all of the HCLS genealogy research tools, including MyHeritage, HeritageQuest, and Gale Genealogy Connect. While Ancestry.com is a robust and popular resource, these other online tools can help fill in the gaps you are bound to encounter. Happy searching! 

Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

Consumer Reports Online

By Eric L.

Often, when I give customers an overview of Howard County Library System’s resources, people are surprised by all that we offer online. As I show them the brochure, I explain that among the other great databases and online resources, they can access Consumer Reports through hclibrary.org with their library card and pin number. They are normally flabbergasted (maybe a strong adjective).  

To get started, browse by Resource Category on the HCLS Now! Research page of our website. You’ll find Consumer Reports listed under Consumer Ratings & Reviews.

To be sure, this is full access to the Consumer Reports website, just like an individual subscription except for the ability to customize the account (sorry, it’s the library’s account). Researching even the smallest purchase through Consumer Reports is prudent, especially since your only cost is  time. You can even print the wonderful charts they include in the magazine for their product reviews. A couple was delighted when I showed them this feature. After reviewing the charts online, and printing them, they changed their mind concerning the brand X washing machine. Personally, I recently read all about the mattress in a box trend. I learned, opted for one of the “best buys,” and now I’m sleeping better. 

My significant other, a nurse currently working with COVID-19 positive patients in the ICU, decided to take up the automobile dealers on their offers of special savings for medical professionals, along with other incentives. After she did the research on the type of car in which she was interested, she used the Consumer Reports “Build & Buy Car Buying Service.” This feature allows you to build the car by selecting the model color, options, etc. You can even view the current incentives (e.g. cash back, special financing) on the vehicle. There are pricing charts, some local dealer inventory and pricing, and user reviews. (My words really don’t do justice to the interface, graphics, and ease of use).

If you’re willing to provide your email, phone number, and address, you can view more specific inventor and receive “personalized” offers from “True Car” certified dealers you’ve selected. The caveat here is that dealerships may contact you quickly. However, let me highlight that you’ve not gone to the automobile dealership, and I’d contend that’s a good thing! 

Consumer Reports even has an article concerning how to buy a car at home and spend less time at the dealership during the pandemic. There’s no commitment and nothing that would prevent you from contacting other local dealers to see if they’d match these offers. 

Sadly, it’s not possible to peruse the Consumer Reports magazines at the library at this time, but I’d still like everyone to remain an informed consumer. 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.