When he was a boy growing up in Charlotte, Reginald Ardrey went to Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to escape.
Now 68, Ardrey, who lives full-time in Oakland, Calif., but has returned to Charlotte to care for his elderly parents, says, once again, it’s the Library where he spends most of his time. This time, though, it’s not books Ardrey spends his time with – it’s the past.
Through the newly expanded free offering of Ancestry.com -- now available inside all Library branches as of December 2018 -- Ardrey has learned more about himself through unlocking the past.
“It’s opened up a wealth of information for me,” Ardrey said as he sat by a computer in the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room in Main Library one recent November afternoon, explaining how his great aunt lived just down the street from Romare Bearden. “I found a whole bunch of family members I didn’t even know existed. I found out things even my parents didn’t know!”
Sifting through United States Census records (from as far back as 1840) on Ancestry.com as well as birth and death certificates, Ardrey was able to trace his family’s roots all the way from the mid-19th century in South Carolina to today, where his mother grew up in Uptown on Alexander Street.
Ardrey’s great-great-great grandfather, Reuben Barber, Ardrey learned through research, was a corporal in Company A of the 47th US Colored Infantry. For his service, his name is etched into a monument in Washington, D.C., that honors black soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
But it’s not only the past Ardrey’s unlocking through Ancestry.com. Through his research, Ardrey said, he’s found several living family members to whom he’s reached out, proudly telling them their ancestor’s name is forever inscribed on a prominent Washington monument.
Yet, it’s perhaps the future that interests Ardrey most. An avid gym-goer and self-described health-nut, Ardrey often looks for his family’s death certificates to see their causes of death. Ancestry.com revealed in the early 1900s, many of his family members died of diabetes-related complications.
Ardrey wants others to know about this free resource and the benefits he’s gained from it.
“Even if you weren’t interested in genealogy before, it can open up a lot of doors for you.”
There’s one thing, though, that evades Ardrey’s research, something he just can’t discern through Census records and death certificates.
“I wish I knew what kind of people they were,” he said.
Unlock your own history at your local Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branch through Ancestry.com. Ask a staff member there to assist you in getting started.