Family Roots in a Research Library

Are you looking to find a better sense of who you are? Not just who you are, but where you came from? One good place to start would be one of Carteret County’s greatest underutilized resources: the Jack Goodwin Research library. If you walk through the History Museum of Carteret County (formerly known as the History Place), past the gift shop and displays, you will find a truly wondrous library tucked in the back of the building. Although the rest of the exhibits are kept under dim museum lighting, this room is brightly lit by fluorescent lights. Don’t let the white light fool you, though; the research library is far from clinical. The room goes back quite a long ways, with rows of bookcases lining one wall. Some of the shelves hold antique books, some hold books that came out last year, and others contain rows of binders that keep different sorts of records in order.  Running down the center of the room are several large tables and desks. All of them are wide and have comfortable chairs next to them - perfect for spreading out all of the books and papers you can find, and delving into your own personal history. Dee Lewis, a full-time volunteer, said one of the goliath tables and the desk he works at came from the courthouse in Beaufort. Back in the day the Register of Deeds would sit on one side of his desk, and the Clerk of Court would sit on the other. Resting his hands on the solid wood, Lewis said,

    “The hurricane might blow the building away, but that table and that desk will still be here.”


Lewis got his start in the research library back in 2005, when he was researching his own family.


    “I just wanted to know who I was. This is who I am,” he said, passing a genealogy with few gaps in it across the desk. Although he was born and raised in Carteret County, when he first came to the archives he could not name any ancestors beyond his grandparents. After hours spent at a desk going through everything from family bible notations to court records, he is now thoroughly informed about his heritage. On one side of his family, he was able to trace a line all the way back to the Vikings. He said it’s not hard to believe, with the blond hair, blue eyes and powerful build on that side of the family. Instead of expending the effort to call a more distant relative his great-great-great-great uncle or aunt, Lewis has developed a shorthand of calling them gruncles and graunties (sort of rhymes with Monty). One of the gruncles he has found in his family tree is the famous privateer, Ottway Burns. Another gruncle, one of the Martins of Bath, was a shipmate of Blackbeard’s. The gruncle was caught with the rest of the Queen Anne’s Revenge crew off of Ocracoke, but was pardoned because he was so young. When Lewis is not helping people who come to the library looking for their relatives, he is still working away at the different branches of his family tree. His current project was checking up on Boaz Squires, a relative from one of the earliest settlements in North Carolina, who supposedly had dealings with the devil. But a lot of his time is spent helping people find their families, or as he put it “their people”.


A grandmother and granddaughter, working on their family tree for the afternoon. 

The library has an abundance of resources to help you track down your relatives, particularly if they’re from North Carolina. Besides the 10,000 books on the shelves, they have court records, old newspapers, photographs, and even data from the Quaker church. Lewis’ favorite assets are the cemetery and census records, along with a book that contains entries from old family bibles. Since every census before 1850 only included the head of household, family bibles have long helped fill in genealogy gaps. The library also has records that stretch beyond North Carolina and up the east coast. Starting in Virginia, the additional records work their way through Pennsylvania and New England, where many Carteret County families moved from. Since the community has been around for so long, most of the residents of Carteret County are (to use Lewis’ word) kin in one way or another. A lady had just called from Williamsburg to inquire about her family from New Bern, and after a little research Lewis found out that her ancestor’s sister married his great-grandfather, making them cousins in a roundabout way. When new people wander into the library seeking information, Lewis has been known to introduce himself,

“Hi, I’m Dee. We’re probably cousins.”


Life is always exciting for the volunteers in the research library. Their day’s work and topic of conversation is determined by the people who come in looking for answers. One man comes in wanting to find the background of the home he had just bought, another would like to know if they had a picture of his brother with his foot in a shark’s mouth (they did). The volunteers have a bonafide goldmine of collective knowledge - and as for the things they don’t know, they’ve usually got a pretty good idea where to start looking. When describing the mission of the research library workers, Lewis said,

“What we want to do is light the fire, is get people excited about finding out who their people are. And we can show them how to do it and where to look, and after that they’re off and running. All we need to do is give them that first potato chip and show them where they can get more.”


One of their favorite sights is that of the ‘genealogy dance’, which is usually performed by a little jump in the seat, and arms being flung triumphantly into the air - it’s the sure sign of a new researcher successfully mining information, to find something they did not know before. All the researchers are encouraged keep track of their findings in a binder with page protectors, to ensure that they can always pick back up where they left off. With all of the discoveries being made, Lewis said,

      “It’s sometimes real exciting here, you know. It’s not the traditional library. We don’t whisper here, this is where adults have conversations.”


Finding the roots of your family has a surprisingly spiritual aspect to it, according to Lewis. Your ancestors did not just pass on DNA and that rather ugly lamp that you don’t like, but also can’t get rid of.

 “As well as inheriting your physical characteristics (which everyone’s aware of), you inherit the intangible stuff, the likes, dislikes, preferences, instincts, fears. The innate knowledge, things that you just know that [you] were never taught.” In looking into the past, there is a good chance you will find out more about yourself in the present. You might even find your doppelganger in an old photograph, like Lewis did. At first things start with dry names and dates, filling out a genealogy. But when you unearth these bare bone facts, you can move on to finding out where your ancestors lived; you can begin to understand how they lived, what they thought and felt, and what they passed on to you. It’s comforting in a way that all historians understand, and the genealogists at the Jack Goodwin Research Library are trying to pass on to others. In the words of Lews,

    “There’s security in the history, and that’s what we want to give especially young people. We want them to know that you have an anchor. It’s not just you and your parents, you are the present-day version of your family that has been somewhere for thousands of years … And if you’d like to meet your ancestors, we can help you.”

Dee was such a sweetheart - can't wait to go back to the library just for the sake of research and combing through their shelves!