When you are in the library or any place of research, do you ever leave your personal belongings unattended even for just a second?
Whether it’s just to look in an index for a quick second or to make copies, taking your eyes off your personal belongings for any amount of time can provide an open invitation for a thief during your moments of inattentiveness.
When I first began researching my family history, I learned an expensive lesson while in the library. I had attended my father’s family reunion in Emporia, Virginia the week earlier and had obtained the names of his mother’s ancestors. I was so excited and consumed with my research that I became careless with my personal belongings.
I had withdrawn over $100 from the bank on Saturday and placed it in my wallet. After church on Sunday, I prepared for my library trip and placed my wallet, a walkman to listen to music on cassette tape, and other items in a small briefcase. I had intended to take some of the money out of the wallet prior to my library trip, but forgot to do it because my mind was focused on my finding my ancestors. While using the microfilm reader, I walked away several times leaving my briefcase unattended. Even while I was doing this, I kept feeling that I should be more cautious about my belongings, but I quickly dismissed the thought because of my excitement about achieving my research goals.
As I prepared to leave the library at closing time at 5 p.m., I began to gather my belongings. My heart stopped when I noticed that my briefcase was missing from the microfilm table where I was sitting. I frantically searched the genealogy room and found my briefcase on a table at another microfilm reader just few feet away. At that moment, I remembered seeing a young man sitting at that table earlier and I recalled looking at him and thinking that he did not look like a serious researcher. However, because of my preoccupied mind, I had dismissed that thought. All of my belongings were in the briefcase except for my wallet. Thoughts of replacing my wallet contents flooded my mind as I went to the front desk informing them of the robbery.
The librarian informed me that library robberies were common, and sometimes the robbers left the wallets somewhere in the library after taking what they wanted. He searched the bathrooms and brought back my torn wallet, a handful of receipts, driver’s license, and other important cards, but no cash.
This experience taught me a very valuable lesson early on in my research. Now, I don’t take a lot of things to the library or courthouse when I am researching. Instead, I wear a fanny pack so I don’t have to be concerned about leaving my wallet unattended. The fanny pack is also convenient for carrying the change I need for copies. I know that once I start researching, I will be too excited and consumed with the research to be attentive to my personal belongings.
Since this incident, I have observed many researchers, especially women, who are careless with their purses and briefcases. But my expensive lesson of 1995 constantly reminds me to take precautions even before I go to any place of research.