Orange County Library offers free access to ancestry, genealogy center

West Oaks Branch has fulltime genealogist on staff with extensive collection of genealogy reference materials

The Orange County Library System has a genealogy center housed in the West Oaks Branch on 1821 East Silver Star Road in Ocoee where library members can dig into their heritage with expert help.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Orange County Library System has a genealogy center housed in the West Oaks Branch on 1821 East Silver Star Road in Ocoee where library members can dig into their heritage with expert help.

The Genealogy Center has been there since 2015 and was originally housed at the main branch in downtown Orlando.

OCLS library members can learn about their heritage with the help of their fulltime Genealogist, Allison Ryall.

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“We can help people of all races, all ethnicities and all backgrounds. They don’t have to be from this county, state or country,” Ryall said.

Ryall is like a detective of sorts, helping people dig into the history of their family using resources like lineage books, documents on microfilm and online databases.

“In genealogy, we call it correlation. How can we take pieces of info from one and correlate with another record to show that we’re following the correct family and correct person and adding those pieces together to solve the research question that we’re asking about our families,” Ryall said.

Elaine Powell has been using the Genealogy center at West Oaks ever since it opened. She said she was inspired by a family heirloom to learn more about her family’s history.

“I had a bible that belonged to my husband’s Patriot, which is a man that served in the Revolutionary War. The Bible was from 1749. It started me on my journey,” said Powell.

Even though Powell’s been researching her family history for more than 40 years. She’s still learning more every day using these resources with the guidance of Ryall. She’s also president of the Central Florida Genealogical Society.

“It’s so exciting when you find out something new. You’re just bursting and you want to tell your friends and your family,” said Powell.

Danny Montilla is just starting to dig into his lineage.

“I didn’t know my dad’s parents. They died when I was very young, and my dad really didn’t talk much about his family growing up so I wanted to know more about my family,” said Montilla. “I thought genealogy was inaccessible for me.”

Montilla said he heard about the free online genealogy courses offered by OCLS, and started taking the beginner’s courses. He said the courses teach him how to use the online databases like FamilySearch, Ancestry and MyHeritage.

“I was able to find all the names of my grandmother’s siblings. There were also pictures on there,” said Montilla. “I was surprised. I didn’t think I was going to find anything.”

Even if your family history goes beyond the U.S., the genealogy center can give you a peek into the past and help connect you to extended family members.

“That’s what I love about my job, being able to help people. By helping people find answers about their families, I know I’ve made a positive impact in their lives or helped them resolve a question or situation they’ve had for a long time,” said Ryall. “Many people turn to genealogy for healing. Sometimes there are riffs in families and genealogy helps mend that.”

Typically, you’d have to be at the West Oaks Branch to access Ancestry Library Edition from one of their computers, but because of the pandemic, it’s available to you for free from home. All you’ll need is your library card. Click HERE to get your free Orange County Library Card online.

Ancestry Library Edition provides easy access to more than 7,000 genealogy databases and 200 billion images with a single search. Collections provide information on individuals from North America, the UK, Europe, Australia and more. Updates and new content are always being added.

That free access from home has just been extended through the end of September.

About the Author:

Crystal Moyer is a morning news anchor who joined the News 6 team in 2020.