5 Genealogy Resources to Look For at YOUR Public Library

genealogy at the public library

This week, I’m researching at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which has one of the best public library genealogy collections in the United States. They’ve got more than half a million items on microfilm and fiche and 350,000 more in print. Among these items are nearly 50,00o city directories; 55,000 compiled family histories; most National Archives microfilmed military service and pension records….Okay, I’ll stop before you get jealous.

But in fact, MOST public libraries have some good genealogy resources. Have you checked out the library near you lately? OR the local history and genealogy collection in a public library near where your ancestors lived? You may likely find these 5 great resources:

  1. Access to paid subscription genealogy websites like Ancestry.com Library Edition, HeritageQuest Online, Fold3 and other genealogy databases.
  2. Local historical newspapers–or at least obituaries from them. ALSO access to historical newspaper websites like GenealogyBank.com which may have papers you’ll never travel to see in person.
  3. City directories, old maps and/or local histories for that town.
  4. Surname files. These aren’t at every public library, but you’ll often find them in libraries that have dedicated genealogy rooms. These likely won’t be neatly organized files with perfect family trees in them, but collections of documents, bibliographic references and correspondence relating to anyone with that surname.
  5. Other surprising local history resources. For example, my hometown library in Euclid, Ohio, has online collections of Euclid newspapers, history, yearbooks and oral histories!

What does your library have? Browse its website or call and ask about its local history and genealogy collections. You might even Google the name of the county with the phrases “public library” and “local history” or “genealogy.” Another branch of the same library system (not in your own or ancestor’s town but nearby) might have just what you need to find your family history!

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Want to learn more about doing genealogy at the public library? Check out two recently republished episodes of Lisa’s Family History Made Easy podcast:

Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1 Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik talks to us about researching at public libraries. She shares what kinds of things may be at the library (including unique resources), how to prepare for a visit and lots of great tips for making the most of your research time there.

Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2 We go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik is back to talk about how to search an online library card catalog including advanced search methods, the unique collections that may be at public libraries, how to ask for exactly what we want, and the obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.

Europeana for Genealogy: WWI Digital Archive, Newspapers and More

Europeana digital archive WWIEuropeana is a digital doorway to European cultural heritage that everyone with European roots will find interesting and enlightening.

Funded by the European Commission and Ministries of Culture in 21 member states, the Europeana website is home to nearly: 19 million images; 13 million texts (including books, archival papers and newspapers); half a million each sound and video files and 16,000 3-D models of objects.

Europeana’s World War I Digital Archive

A major part of Europeana is its World War I digital archive. As the site describes, Europeana “has been running World War I family history roadshows around Europe, helping to digitize people’s stories, documents and memorabilia from 1914-1918. People can upload their own digitized items onto the Europeana1914-1918.eu site. In 2014, the centenary of WWI, 100,000 images and scans have already come into Europeana, creating a virtual memory bank that reflects all perspectives on the conflict.”

Europeana 1989 and the Fall of the Iron Curtain

A sister site, Europeana 1989, collects “stories, pictures, films relating to the events of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe.” You can upload your own materials or, as the site says, “let us take you on a journey through the Fall of the Iron Curtain, see it from all sides and draw your own conclusions.”

The top countries to supply images to Europeana are Germany, France and the Netherlands, each with more than 3.5 million items, and then Spain, Sweden, Italy and the U.K. The site attracted 4 million unique visitors last year. Click here to read a guide to using Europeana for genealogy and local history research.

Historical Newspapers at Europeana

Historical newspapers are another great source for genealogical and historical research. Europeana now includes the Europeana Newspapers collection which features hundreds of newspaper titles and millions of newspaper pages, spanning four centuries and 20 countries from across Europe. In addition to viewing digitized newspaper pages, many now support readable text files. These files allow you to keyword search within their contents. You can zero in on these files by using feature called ‘Search for records with full text’.

Europeana’s Newspaper Collection offers a variety of ways to access and use the content including:

It’s worth investing a few minutes in reviewing the historical newspapers guides at Europeana In order to get the most from the collection. The helpful guides explain how to navigate, search, find, and reuse Newspapers content.

More at Europeana

Other Europeana links to try:

  • The Europeana portal is the search engine for the digitised collections of museums, libraries, archives and galleries across Europe.
  • Our Virtual Exhibitions feature highlights from the collection.
  • Follow the Europeana blog to keep updated on the projects and progress of this rapidly-growing resource for European family history.

 

Time to Explore New Online Genealogical Records

You’re going to want to make some time in your schedule this week to explore these new genealogy records that just might help you discover a new branch of your family tree! This week we highlight a wide variety of intriguing records including historical maps, oral histories, workhouse records, and historical newspapers. (Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for helping us bring these free articles to you!)

Bird’s-Eye View Maps Are Now Online

Maps are often things of beauty, and many of the maps at the DSpace online repository are no exception. Like many libraries, the State Library of Massachusetts has a large collection of bird’s-eye view maps. These maps have now been digitized and are available online.
 
Though the collection focuses on Massachusetts, the maps are not limited to just that state. A search of “New York” retrieves this Bird’s-eye view of the city of New York from 1853:
new york map 1853
 
This online collection currently includes 120 maps and most of the maps date from the late 1800s up to the early 1900s.
 
Keep an eye on this collection, particularly if you’re genealogical research takes your family tree into Massachusetts because the word is that there will be many more added in the near future. 

You can search and browse the collection in the State of Massachusetts’ DSpace online repository here.  

 

Ohio World War II Oral Histories Digital Collection

World War II ended in 1945 making a man who enlisted at the age of 18 that year, 92 years old today. A new digital archive at Bowling Green State University is striving to digitize old cassette tapes and video tapes that contain interviews with over 100 veterans from Ohio. 

According to the website,  the exhibit “provides full digital access to the History 303 World War II oral histories (MS-0871). The oral histories were collected from 2000-2004 for a “History of World War II” (History 303) course taught by Drs. Walter E. Grunden and Kathren Brown in the BGSU Department of History, who assigned students the project of recording an interview with an individual who directly experienced the war, whether as a military veteran, Holocaust survivor, refugee, or non-combatant on the home front.”

WWII Ohio oral histories

BGSU’s World War II veteran oral histories include both men and women. who served.

The project is part of a $6,700 grant the university received from the Ohio History Connection. A helpful finding aid is available for the collection here at the BGSU website

You can search and view the interview here. If you’re like me, you’ll find these interviews with many of the Greatest Generation compelling to watch even if you don’t have relatives from Ohio.

 

Findmypast: New and exclusive Donegal Workhouse records

Findmypast has added over 400,000 Donegal, Ireland records to their growing collection of Irish Workhouse records.

The Donegal Workhouses Registers and Minute Books have been digitized and published online for the first time by Findmypast in partnership with the Donegal County Council. 

The records consist of both transcripts and images of original admission and discharge registers as well as board of guardians’ minute books spanning the years 1840 to 1922.

The collection covers the unions of:

  • Ballyshannon
  • Donegal
  • Dunfanaghy
  • Glentis
  • Inishowen
  • Letterkenny
  • Milford
  • and Stranorlar.

As well as registers and minute books, users can also expect to find:

  • accounts
  • death registers
  • dispensary notices
  • letters
  • notices
  • notifications
  • petitions
  • relief registers
  • supplier contracts
  • Union receipts, and more.

From Findmypast: “High levels of poverty in 19th century Ireland meant that hundreds of thousands of Irish people passed through the workhouses. Irish workhouses were generally built to accommodate around 800 inmates although it soon became clear that more space was needed and programme of building took place throughout the 1840s and 50s.

former workhouse taken in Dunfanaghy, Donegal

Former workhousein Dunfanaghy, Donegal Flickr user nz_willowherb [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Life inside was grim. At first, there was no so-called outdoor relief, as would have been common in England. Outdoor relief was when the poor could simply use the workhouse facilities as needed by undertaking a day’s work. Indoor relief was initially the only option and required the poor to prove they were destitute before they were admitted.”

This new collection is part of an existing archive of Irish Workhouse records which now includes over 3.1 million records covering Dublin, Clare, Sligo and Waterford.

British & Irish Newspaper Update

Findmypast has added 137,896 new pages to The Archive. These have been added to 18 existing publications spanning 128 years from 1871 to 1999.

The historical newspapers with new additions include:

  • Staffordshire Sentinel: 1906-1910, 1918-1919
  • Newcastle Evening Chronicle: 1894, 1913, 1919
  • The People: 1946-1949
  • Newcastle Chronicle: 1875-1896, 1899-1900
  • Surrey Advertiser: 1909
  • Limerick Chronicle: 1825
  • Aberdeen Press and Journal: 1983-1984
  • Walsall Observer, and South Staffordshire Chronicle: 1873-1911, 1925-1933, 1958-1969
  • Pinner Observer: 1999
  • Harrow Leader: 1998-1999
  • Ealing Leader: 1998-1999
  • Hayes & Harlington Gazette: 1998-1999
  • Acton Gazette: 1871-1880, 1885, 1888-1892, 1894-1903, 1910-1917, 1921-1939
  • Amersham Advertiser: 1998
  • Hammersmith & Shepherds Bush Gazette: 1991
  • Dumfries and Galloway Standard: 1874, 1884
  • Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough: 1901-1902
  • Hamilton Advertiser: 1889-1892, 1894, 1897, 1901, 1903-1904, 1906-1908

New Free Historical Records at FamilySearch

Search these new records and images by clicking on the collection links below. The number shown in parenthesis is the number of indexed records added. 

Australia: Australia, South Australia, Prison Records, 1838-1912 (81,971) New indexed records collection

Belgium: Belgium, Namur, Civil Registration, 1800-1912 (402) Added indexed records to existing collection

Canada: Nova Scotia Births, 1864-1877 (183,455) Added indexed records to an existing collection

Canada: Nova Scotia Marriages, 1864-1918 (18,885) Added indexed records to an existing collection

England: England, Herefordshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1583-1898 (594,707) New indexed records collection

Germany: Germany, Saxony-Anhalt, Halberstadt, Civil Registration, 1874-1982 (12,060) Added indexed records to an existing collection

Lesotho: Lesotho, Evangelical Church Records, 1828-2005 (302) Added indexed records to an existing collection

Liberia: Liberia, Marriage Records, 1912-2015 (2,475) Added indexed records to an existing collection

Luxembourg: Luxembourg, Civil Registration, 1796-1941  (73,901) Added indexed records to an existing collection

Peru: Peru, Cemetery Records, 1912-2013 (42,164) New indexed records collection

Scotland: Scotland Presbyterian & Protestant Church Records, 1736-1990  (109,064) New indexed records collection

United States: Arkansas Confederate Pensions, 1901-1929 (33,779) Added indexed records to an existing collection

United States: Arkansas, Church Records, 1922-1977 (306) New indexed records collection

United States: California, Church Records, 1864-1985 1,941 New indexed records collection

United States: California, Santa Clara County, San Jose, Oak Hill Cemetery Headstone Inscriptions, 1838-1985 (61,966) New indexed record collection

United States: Colorado, Church Records, 1692-1942 (35,030) New indexed records collection

United States: Connecticut, Vital Records, Prior to 1850 (8) Added indexed records to existing collection

United States: Massachusetts, City of Boston Voter Registers, 1857-1920 (32,996) New indexed records collection

United States: Michigan, Civil War Centennial Observance Commission, Committee on Civil War Grave Registration, Burial Records (15,951) New indexed records collection

United States: Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001 (8,672) Added indexed records to an existing collection

United States: Nebraska, Box Butte County, Funeral Home Records, 1919-1976 (3,491) Added indexed records to an existing collection

United States: Nebraska, Church Records, 1875-1899 (151) New indexed records collection

United States: Pennsylvania, Berks County, Reading, Charles Evans Cemetery and Crematory Burial Records, 1887-1979 (106,043) New indexed records collection

United States: Texas, Bexar County, San Antonio Cemetery Records, 1893-2007 (4,981) Added indexed records to an existing collection

United States: United States Deceased Physician File (AMA), 1864-1968 (78,215) Added indexed records to an existing collection

Share Your Story

Did you find an ancestor or bust a brick wall using our list of new online genealogical records? Please leave a comment below and share your story and inspire others. And while you’re at it, please share this article using our social buttons (at the top of this article) with your genealogy friends. We thank you, and they will too!

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Best Strategies: How to Find Church Marriage Records

Finding church marriage records may not be as easy as finding civil marriage records. I’ve invited genealogist Sunny Morton to share her best strategies for finding U.S. church marriage records from her new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide.

Strategies for Finding U.S. Church Marriage Records

Marriage records are part of that genealogy trinity of U.S. vital records. In addition to documenting the wedding, marriage records may also serve up the equivalent of genealogical party favors, such as the birth dates, birthplaces and sometimes even parents’ names of the bride and groom.


Civil or government records are generally the first ones we turn to in the United States. These types of records are commonly referred to as “vital records,” since they document important events in a person’s life like birth, marriage, and death.

Civil marriage records can be fairly easy to find and access. However, that’s not always the case. There may be times you can’t obtain a civil marriage record. If you do find it, it may not include all the information you were hoping for. And sometimes you’d just like to find more corroborating evidence or additional clues about their lives. That’s when it’s a good idea to turn to church marriage records.

Best Strategies for finding church marriage records

Though not all of our U.S. ancestors were married in a church or by a member of the clergy, many of them were, so church marriage records may exist.

In general, finding U.S. church records is a two-step process:
1. identify the right church
2. then find its records.

However, this may actually involve a few additional steps.

I’m going to share with you the steps and strategies of this process from my new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide. Along the way we’ll see how they apply to a real genealogy case that resulted in success.

Step 1: Identify the Church of Your Ancestor

Identifying the church in which an ancestor married is key to locating any surviving record of it.

Let me give you the first and most important tip: the answer may be sitting under your nose.

What do I mean by that? Start by looking carefully back through other records you already have about the bride or groom. These types of records include obituaries, oral histories, county histories, tombstones, etc. Do they mention a church affiliation?

Church Clues in other genealogical records

Example for Lisa’s family history

Even if they don’t mention a church, perhaps one of these records can give you a clue.

For example, let’s say the husband’s obituary mentions his lifelong religious affiliation, like Methodist or Catholic or Baptist, but not the name of the local congregation. My book offers several detailed strategies for tracking down the church name, but here’s one of the most helpful: Look at city directories, histories or maps from that time period to identify nearby churches of that denomination. Keep in mind that before the age of the automobile, people couldn’t travel far to attend church.

Let’s say you find both Irish and German Catholic parishes in the area. Based on what you already know about your family, with which did they likely affiliate?

If you’ve got the civil marriage record, look at the name of the officiator. Do you see a title hinting that this was a minister, such as “Rev” (short for Reverend)? (As an FYI, the initials “J.P.” stand for Justice of the Peace, a civil office.)

Occasionally you may even see the denomination written right in the record, as it is in the Colorado civil marriage record of Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman:

How to find church records: Colorado civil marriage record

Colorado civil marriage record of Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman

Most marriage certificates don’t state a minister’s affiliation but searching with Google may be able to help you with that.

For example, the Indiana marriage certificate for another ancestral couple of mine identifies the officiator as “S.B. Falkenberg, Minister.” Googling that name, along with the keywords church and Indiana, led me to online books that identified him as a Methodist.

Additional digging revealed that “Somers B. Falkenburg”—probably the same guy—was specifically assigned to the Rushville Circuit of the Southeast Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1860. This was around the time and place I’m looking for that 1861 marriage record. (Learn to do this kind of digging yourself from my book. See Chapter 14 Methodist.)

Step 2: Find Where the Church Records are Located

Once you’ve identified the church, it’s time to search for congregational records that may document the marriage.

Your strategy may vary, depending on the denomination, the time and the place. Again, my book can help you: there’s a chapter with general strategies for finding church records and there are specific chapters on various denominations. Here are some get-started strategies.

Googling the Church

Find out whether the church still exists by googling the church name and location or using the online congregational locator tools I mention in the various denominational chapters.

If the church still exists, you’ll likely find a website, Facebook page, or other contact information. Reach out to their office and ask about their old records.

If you can’t find the church online, it may have closed, merged with another church, or been renamed.

Contact the Church Organization

You might turn to regional church offices or archives, such as those of a Catholic diocese or Methodist conference, to see whether they can tell you anything about that church or its records.

Methodist Conference c. 1904

Each denomination has a different organizational structure. (See the 12 different denominational chapters in Part 2 of my book.)

An Example Search

How to find church records: civil marriage records search

Searching for church directories

Remember that 1889 civil marriage record for Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman I showed you previously? Let’s take a look at the process I used to find their church marriage record.

Since the civil marriage record told me that the officiator Godfrey Raeber was a Catholic priest, I turned to the annual Catholic Directory for that year to see what parish (local congregation) he was assigned to.

I googled catholic directory 1889 and found that year’s edition online at HathiTrust Digital Archive.

Keyword-searching within the directory for Raeber didn’t bring up any results, but I didn’t stop there. I paged through it until I found the listing for the diocese of Denver (it is now an Archdiocese).

I found the priest listed at St. Ann’s, but his surname was spelled a little differently, which is why I couldn’t find him with that keyword search:

How to find church records for genealogy

Immediately, I googled St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Denver, Colorado. Nothing came up. So, I googled Denver Catholic diocese archive and found the archdiocesan archivist’s contact information. I called him and asked what he could tell me about St. Ann’s parish and its records. The parish had closed, he said, and he had the records right there. What did I need?

Hooray! I mailed him a check and emailed him the specifics of my request. He sent me back a copy of Mike and Mary’s entry line in the marriage register:

In case you can’t read it easily, the entry references their marriage on the 28th (the month and year, in preceding columns, are “ditto-marked” the same as the entry above it, which I can’t see, but I have the date already from the civil marriage record). Then Mike Fox’s name appears, age 23, “1” for his first marriage, Denver residence, son of Martin & Francis, born in Germany.

How to find church records for genealogy

How to find church records for genealogy - marriage entry

Similar information appears for Mary, the bride, though her surname is mostly illegible. These details (age, parents’ names, birthplace) were what I hoped to learn when I originally ordered the civil marriage record—but it’s not there. Only by taking the extra steps to find the church marriage record did I uncover these additional details.

I’m still looking for a Methodist record of that marriage recorded by S.B. Falkenberg. I’m guessing his was a traveling assignment covering many small towns, which means his own personal log book may have been the only place he would have created a record, if indeed he did. The records of itinerant ministers are not easy to find.

The Search for Church Marriage Records Can Lead to More Gems

It’s true that you won’t always find church records of ancestors’ marriages or other life events such as births, baptisms, deaths or burials.

Sometimes the records weren’t created; for example, Baptists didn’t generally record marriages, as they weren’t considered a religious rite.

Or perhaps membership records have been destroyed or lost.

Occasionally, you’ll track down the records only to find they aren’t accessible to researchers. That’s sometimes true for Catholic sacramental records, which are confidential—though many church or archive offices will release copies or transcriptions of older records.

How to find U.S. church records

But while following the process for church records, you may discover other gems that can add color to your family history stories.

For example, when I was looking for Catholic parish records in Olyphant, Pennsylvania, I found a short history of the church. It described the devotion of its earliest members, who raised the funds to erect their building and even helped dig its foundations. Though I can’t prove it, I have reason to believe this family was part of that devoted group.

Other times, you may find photos, directories, reminiscences or other records that give you a glimpse of your ancestors’ church community life.

A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding Church Records

While the 2-step process for finding church marriage records is straight-forward, each case requires unique resources. In How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide which I wrote with Harold Henderson, CG lays out a plethora of specific resources for the major Christian denominations in the U.S. before 1900:

church records book cover• Amish,
• Anglican,
• Baptist,
• Congregational,
• Dutch Reformed,
• Latter-day Saint,
• Lutheran,
• Mennonite,
• Methodist,
• Quaker,
• Presbyterian,
• Roman Catholic,
• and various German churches.

More than 30 archivists, historians, and genealogical experts in specific faith traditions have contributed their knowledge to the book.
Church records won’t always be your genealogical salvation, but every so often—hallelujah!—they will prove to be your saving grace.

About the Author

Sunny Morton (along with Harold A. Henderson, CG) is the author of the books How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide, and My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories. She is also a contributing editor to Family Tree Magazine.

(Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting articles like these by using our link.)

 

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