Chattanooga's 'Genealogy Queen' set to retire
Mary Helms, Chattanooga’s ‘Genealogy Queen’, has been with the Chattanooga Library system for four decades. She received her Master of Arts degree in Librarianship from Emory University. She has been a librarian at the University of Virginia, at several libraries in Mississippi, and with the Chattanooga Public Library, where she is the head of the Local History and Genealogy Department.
"I think that the library is a true asset to the community,” said Helms. “Great cities have great libraries and this is a great library."
She was appointed by Governor Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board and has been a member of the National Genealogical Society, the Society of Tennessee Archivists, the Tennessee Library Association, and the Chattanooga Area Historical Association.
But after forty years and countless civic activities, Mary has decided to retire. She began her career with the Chattanooga Public Library system at the Northgate Branch in 1977.
"We had acreage for the Northgate Branch and we were just in an empty field,” recalled Helms. “I remember that when we had a program, the Hixson High Rocket Club launch rockets from our parking lot into that empty field. It was almost rural at the time."
Of course things have changed both in the community and in the library since then. And the library has done a good job keeping up with the changes. The fourth floor of the downtown branch is home to a 3D printer, t-shirt screener and other technology to spur knowledge and creativity in the community.
But Helms explains that she is most proud of the personal impact she and her department have made on individuals.
"We've had people that have actually teared up when they found information about their great, grandfather or great grandmother,” she says. “A lady found her biological mother using DNA and our records here. The human side of this, the people you meet, how you touch their lives in a personal way means a lot to me."
Mary plans on volunteering from time to time, but she has a few concerts to see first.
“I've got tickets already to Fleetwood Mac in Nashville and (CCR in Peach Tree City) and Blood Sweat in Tears in Knoxville. So I've got some things lined up."
Mary's last day is set for June 30, 2018.