A little-known resource only miles away from Isla Vista can provide those with an interest in genealogy a glimpse into their own past.
The Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society Library, also known as the Sahyun Library, is a nonprofit organization that provides material useful for researching family history. Now located at 310 Castillo St., the library began in 1972 as a group called the Goleta Newcomer. They were interested in family history, and after putting an ad in a Santa Barbara newspaper, were joined by 28 other local residents with a similar passion.
Cheryl Jensen, who volunteers for the museum, said the Sahyun Library is a local landmark for genealogical information. The library’s collection, which exceeds 8,000 books, covers a range of historical topics, including family history according to last names, birth, death and marriage records, military records, migration histories, cemetery records, maps and even old UCSB yearbooks. One of the oldest tomes is from 1892.
“It’s the largest collection [of genealogical history] on the Central Coast,” Jensen said. “We have records from every place in this country, as well as some from South America, Europe [and other countries].”
Edwin Storr, another resident and volunteer, said new books charting valuable genealogical data arrive at the library from a multitude of sources.
“[They come] from donations, book sales, garage sales and everywhere,” Storr said.
Volunteer Cari Thomas added that “the collection has very little intrinsic value, but [the books] are filled with treasure for genealogists.”
The books are only one part of the museum’s genealogical resources. Museum staff aid those researching genealogy by teaching them how to comb through the books and find the information they need.
“We show them how to do the research,” Jensen said. “We don’t do it for them.”
Storr likens research of family history to the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle.
“The only difference,” he said, “is that you don’t know the number of pieces and there is no picture on the box.”
The library’s home for nearly five years has been a 1.5-acre piece of property on Castillo Street in downtown Santa Barbara. The spot was formerly the home of Melville Sahyun, one of the early pioneers of diabetes research and the use of insulin.
“[The library] has gone from corrugated boxes to here, with a few stops in between,” Storr said.
The museum’s entire staff consists of volunteers like Storr and Jensen. Staff generates funding primarily by renting the house and several garages located on the property.
The museum sponsors adult education classes at Santa Barbara City College in genealogical studies.
The society also offers an annual seminar in April and holds monthly meeting groups, some of which are entitled “Beginning Genealogy,” “German Ancestry” and “Computer Genealogy Sources.”
Thomas said historic preservation begins with valuable resources such as older relatives, who are often the most reliable sources of family history.
“Young people often aren’t interested because [they] are so full of what their own lives are that they don’t look into the people who made them who they are,” she said.
The library’s volunteers make an effort to tell members of the Santa Barbara community about the library by setting up booths at local ethnic festivals throughout the year.