Jasper librarian helps patrons research family, local history
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 05, 2012 | 1088 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
 Elizabeth Blanton pulls a reference book from a shelf in the Jasper Public Library’s Heritage Room. The local library system has a vast genealogical collection that includes materials such as family files and now offers a database called HeritageQuest as well. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Elizabeth Blanton pulls a reference book from a shelf in the Jasper Public Library’s Heritage Room. The local library system has a vast genealogical collection that includes materials such as family files and now offers a database called HeritageQuest as well. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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A Florida resident researching his family history came to Jasper Public Library two years ago with only his father’s name, his grandmother’s name and a few childhood memories to guide him.

Heritage Room librarian Elizabeth Blanton quickly pulled several files on his Guttery ancestors. She also found a death notice from 1945 for a soldier named Bert Guttery.

“I made a copy and said, ‘This could be some of your family.’ He jumped up and hugged me around the neck. He said, ‘That’s my dad!’” Blanton recalled.

The patron, Pat Guttery, was still in the womb when his father was sent to Attu in the Aleutian Islands near Alaska.

Blanton was able to help Guttery trace his father’s grave to Oak Hill Cemetery, where he found his grandmother’s marker as well.

Blanton also directed Guttery to the veterans monument in downtown Jasper where his father’s name is inscribed.

Dennis Freeman, another local genealogist, put him in touch with a cousin in the area who took him to the family homestead he had visited as a child with his grandmother. There he found school pictures of himself and his brother among the papers that had been thrown around for years by vandals.

“He was so overwhelmed,” Blanton said.

Sandra Underwood, director of the Carl Elliott Regional Library, said the system is fortunate to have Blanton on staff because of her extensive knowledge of local history.

Patrons who need assistance tracing their family tree will find Blanton to be an invaluable resource.

“Those types of questions can require 10 minutes of research or she may research a week on a question. She never gives up until she finds an answer,” Underwood said.

Blanton’s Southern roots run deep.

Her ancestors were settled in Alabama before it became a state in 1819.

Her great-great-grandfather, Hugh Lollar, is said to have named the town of Jasper.

Blanton grew up listening to her parents tell their family’s stories and has helped numerous people discover their own through the library’s genealogical collection.

The Heritage Room is filled with reference materials including censuses, homestead records, obituaries, phone directories, microfilms of newspaper articles, family files, county heritage books and biographies by local authors.

The library system also recently added an online database called HeritageQuest, which provides patrons 24/7 access to thousands more digital records.

Blanton is at the library several days a week to assist aspiring genealogists in the area and also gets requests for information from out-of-state residents who have Walker County ties.

She has been called on several times by forensics officials with the military who have identified some remains and need an obituary to notify the soldier’s next of kin.

One such case was from the Korean War era. Another involving the Navy affected a family Blanton knew. As a result, she was able to provide more current names and contact information that the decades-old obituary lacked.

A representative from the NBC genealogy series “Who Do You Think You Are?” contacted Blanton earlier this year.

The star of one of the episodes had a local ancestor believed to have been a Confederate soldier who deserted to the Union Army.

“When she told me his name, I said, ‘Oh, I know who you’re talking about. He’s the one who snuck through the woods.’ That’s how the old people used to say it,” Blanton said.

The producers needed proof of the man’s Confederate service, but Blanton was unable to find any. She now wonders if the family made up the story to save face years ago.

“I think they just thought it would sound better that he had fought a little bit for the South,” Blanton said.

Blanton also once compiled more than 50 articles on a local murder case for producers from the Investigation Discovery network.

However, she usually spends her time on more mundane requests such as old sports articles for former athletes making a scrapbook of their glory years.

“Some things you don’t think about people ever wanting, but I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I meet so many interesting people from all over,” Blanton said.