Seattle Now & Then: Genealogy

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Genealogist Darlene Hamilton, on the left, no longer remembers what particular research tome she and her predecessor Carol Lind held together for this ca. 1971 portrait in the genealogy alcove of central library. The photographer was, most likely, Lind’s friend Joseph W. Marshall. (Courtesy, Seattle Public Library)
NOW: Darlene Hamilton, again on the left, and her successor John LaMont chose to hold together a history of Montgomery County, Indiana, where, they determined, both have forebears.

At some moment in the walkabout of life it occurs to more than a few of us to look back to where we came from. This interest in personal history will sometimes be an entrance also to community history and more. But it typically starts with genealogy; finding out about one’s parents and their parents and so on and on. As almost anyone who has taken this hide-and-seek path will confirm, saddling our basic human urges for chasing the fox or the facts can be a most exhilarating ride.

Thankfully for this search we can get some practiced and typically kind help from genealogists, and The Seattle Public Library, the Seattle Genealogical Society, and the Fiske Genealogical Library all have them. For many of us the face on the left of both our “now and then” is a familiar one. For forty years Darlene Hamilton was The Seattle Public Library’s genealogy librarian.

In the contemporary scene Hamilton poses with her successor John LaMont in the genealogy section of the History Department in the still new Koolhaus-designed central library. In the older view, and at her predecessor’s request, Hamilton has joined Carol Lind in the “genealogy alcove” of the central library’s Bindon and Wright designed building (1960), which held to the same block facing Fourth Ave. between Madison and Spring Streets.  When Lind started with the library in 1949 it was still housed in the classically styled stone pile built with funds from the Carnegie Foundation more than a century ago, and also on the same block. Carol Lind retired in 1971.

John LaMont notes that many of the requests made at the central library’s history desk are genealogical. And the electronic tools that LaMont and Mahina Oshie, a second genealogy librarian added this year, have in 2011 are what Carol Lind, perhaps, could have scarcely imagined a mere half-century ago. But LaMont notes, “There are many things that remain the same in terms of assisting people with their research. We suggest they look at family sources, learn about doing research, fill out a family chart, and we make recommendations on where to look based on what they know already.”


Happy New Year! Anything to add, Paul?

Thanks Jean and the same in return.  Yes we will take a break from partying (which we started at your place for dinner with the most succulent turkey any of the about fifteen persons squeezed into your dining room can remember having ever been served before and all because you soaked the bird for hours in some salty solution and then stuffed it also with exotic spices and mushrooms) and put up some old Seattle Public Library photos.  We may have inserted one or more of these earlier, but this is new “context” so we will not be prevented.  Still the readers are reminded to use the search window for finding out more about any subject that comes up.  We have been putting up enough features by now that you might well find something – or you may also come upon the same thing, in which case please be happy with the new surrounds.

We’ll start with a something from SPL genealogist John LaMont and add now our thanks that he took our invitation to write about his personal history as subject and as research.  And we asked John to help illustrate it, so we have a few pictures of the SPL’s genealogist growing up and into his expertise.  John did not title his offering, but we have.   So first an “invitation” from John – and thanks to him too.

John LaMont and Darlene Hamilton at Darlene's retirement party, July 5, 2011.



With genealogy and family history, everything fits together in a timeline and events are marked by when and where they occurred. But it’s typically not until we’re looking back that we can see the patterns and connections, causes and effects, and points where our personal histories intersect with others. When I began working as a genealogy librarian at The Seattle Public Library [SPL], my path intersected with that of Darlene Hamilton, the senior genealogy librarian, for seven years.

In 1966 after graduating from library school in Minnesota, Darlene landed a librarian job in Bellingham, hopped on a Great Northern train, and headed out west.  While working in Bellingham, Darlene made several genealogy research trips to SPL and at about the same time, my folks moved from Missouri to Minnesota and then to Montana, which is where I come in.  A few years later in 1971, Darlene was hired by SPL and started her career as a genealogy librarian—a career that spanned 40 years and included the Bicentennial, Alex Haley’s Roots, the public releases of the 1900, 1910, 1920, & 1930 U.S. Census, and helping countless people research their family’s history.

John, age 3, in Northern Virginia, Dec. 1971, which is shortly after Darlene Hamilton started her new job at Seattle Public Library.

Meanwhile, my folks moved to Northern Virginia when I was a toddler, and it would only take me 17 years to become interested in genealogy, another 6 to learn of Darlene (I moved to Seattle in 1993, discovered the large genealogy collection at SPL and microfilm available at the National Archives Regional Branch and truly became hooked), and another 10 beyond that before I landed a job working with Darlene at SPL in 2004.

John in Washington D.C.. He writes, "This was taken about the time I first became interested in family history - about 1988/9."

For me the draw is mostly about research and discovery, and being able to piece together the lives of ancestors based on information they left behind.  My dad’s family has lived in Washington since the 1880s, and my aunts’ and cousins’ homes in Chewelah are treasure troves of photographs, diaries, family bibles, etc.  Putting those pieces together with other genealogical sources such as censuses, land records, probates, wills, vital records, military records, court records, passenger lists, newspapers, and the like, you can learn quite a bit.  And with much of this information now available online via free web sites or subscription databases, you can make substantial progress in one sitting.  In other cases, even with access to all these records at your fingertips, there are certain roadblocks to progress.  Some of these you may find were put up by your ancestors.

Nellie (Rusk) LaMont at Laura (Rusk) LaMont's grave - Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery - Spokane, WA. John writes, "This is sometime before 1963 when Nellie died and likely earlier based on her appearance." Most likely the car in the background also makes it considerably earlier than 1960.
John LaMont at Laura (Rusk) LaMont's grave - Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery - Spokane, WA.

There are two family secrets that I discovered when researching my family history.  The first I discovered early on and it was that my great-grandfather Clarence LaMont had been married twice, first to Laura Rusk who died in 1907 at age 24 and secondly in 1909 to my great-grandmother Nellie Rusk, Laura’s younger sister.  There were two clues: A photo of Nellie standing next to her sister’s grave in Spokane – the stone simply reads Laura with no last name; and an obituary of Laura and Nellie’s mother from December 1906 listing one of the survivor’s as Mrs. LaMont of Harrison, Idaho.   Adding these to the Washington Death Index, a newspaper obituary from Spokane, and the funeral home records, I had my smoking gun. Although someone marrying a deceased spouse’s siblings was not in itself a scandal—then or now—the fact that no one in my family had known about it made it quite interesting.

Shirley LaMont (Clarence & Nellie's son) in West Seattle with his guitar. Circa 1927.
John LaMont in West Seattle at the same house, but with his wife Jamie's guitar. Circa 1995.

The second secret, which I just discovered a couple of years ago, is also related to Clarence.  After years of searching for his roots with no success, I was left with a handful of family facts – youngest of four, born January 13, 1879 in Patoka or Vandalia, IL, mother died when he was two, shuffled around from one Uncle to the next until he was 12 or 13, headed out west to make his fortune as a cook, two sisters, one named Ida married a man named Ritter and had son Cliff, a brother, and so on. I knew his parents’ names, based on a Social Security application, to be William Henry LaMont and Elizabeth Andrews. But Clarence never appears in the Census until 1910 and his earliest known whereabouts were in 1906 — Harrison, Idaho.  Turns out Clarence was born and raised as Thomas H. Sharp, and changed his name when heading out west.  I was able to connect with distant cousins and we compared our pictures of Clarence and Thomas and found him to be one in the same.  As to why Clarence changed his identity, that is another, as-yet-unsolved, mystery. And so the fun continues.

If you need help with your genealogy, drop us a line via the Ask-A-Librarian service at, come by during our genealogy desk hours, or make a one-on-one appointment. Mahina Oshie, our newest genealogy librarian, and I are happy to help you with your research.

You’ll find us at the 9th floor reference desk at the Central Library during the following times:

  • –Tuesday through Saturday:  11 a.m. – noon; & 1 – 3 p.m.
  • –Sunday: 1- 3 p.m.

Appointments are available Tuesday through Saturday at 3 p.m. & 4 p.m.

John with his parents, Kathy and Wayne LaMont, in Northern Virginia, 1971.


Next we will run on with a few photographs.   Most of the first selections show the library block seen from near 4th Ave. and Madison Street, looking to the north and east.   The sequence begins  with a look at the block when the McNaught mansion still held it, circa 1902.

The McNaught Mansion on the east side of 4th Ave. seen across Madison Street. Note the cable railway's slot running between its tracks, and Providence Hospital on 5th Avenue, on the right.
The Carnegie Library, ca. 1907, when new and before the 4th Ave. regrade required adding a grand stairway to the library.
The library with its grand stairway following the 1908 4th Avenue Regrade.
The library lobby (Courtesy Seattle Public Library)
Carnegie Library reading room with card catalog. (Courtesy SPL)
Children's reading room in the basement.
Carnegie fine arts room. (Courtesy SPL)
A bake sale for the library in the library.
Looking west on Madison Street from 5th Avenue with the Carnegie Library on the right.
Front on Fourth during the Big Snow of 1916.
Looking north on Fourth Avenue from the library's front door, ca. 1940. (Courtesy SPL)
Razing the Carnegie - looking south on Fourth Ave. and across Spring Street. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

Above and below, construction on the modern library, ca. 1959

Seattle Public Library, central branch, nearly new. (Courtesy SPL)

TO ALL the dear visitors of this blog, Jean and Berangere and I wish, hope and imagine – we’re concentrating – a fine coming 2012 for you and all that matters, which includes us.







4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Genealogy”

  1. Super awesome. Library info, genealogy and old photos – it’s like the trifecta of my hobby interests! (Sharing on Vintage King County on Facebook)

  2. This is great work and informational material. It will take me sometime to ingest it all. I’m so please this is going on. And, thanks for your fine, excellent work for all of us to be educated and enjoy. pat

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