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:
Access to paid subscription genealogy websites like Ancestry.com Library Edition, HeritageQuest Online, Fold3 and other genealogy databases.
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.
City directories, old maps and/or local histories for that town.
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.
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 1Genealogy 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 2We 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.
Genealogy records are about to expand online. It’s still about 9 months away, but in the time it takes to bring a new descendant into the world the National Archives will be delivering the 1940 US Population Schedules to the public. There are a couple of guys who have been on the forefront of this event: none other than Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub. (You’ll remember hearing from Joel from his past appearance on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.)
Of course family historians are chomping at the bit to dig into the 1940 census even though there won’t be an index when it’s first released. However, the guys have put out a press release about what you can do now to get ready to search:
“It will not be name indexed, so it will be necessary to do an address search in order to find families. Address searching involves knowing the ED (enumeration district) in which the address is located.. The National Archives (NARA) earlier this year indicated they had plans to make available in 2011 the 1940 ED maps of cities and counties, and ED descriptions, but their recent move to consider having a 3rd party host all the images may have appreciably set back this timetable.
The only website that currently has location tools for the 1940 census is the Steve Morse One Step site. There are several such tools there, and it could be overwhelming to figure out which tool to use when. There is a tutorial that attempts to clarify it and an extensive FAQ.
We are announcing the opening of another educational utility to help people learn about the different 1940 locational search tools on the One Step site, and information about the 1940 census itself. It is in the form of a quiz, and should help many, many genealogists quickly learn how to search an unindexed census by location. The new utility is called “How to Access the 1940 Census in One Step“. Not only is it informative, we hope it is entertaining.”
Entertaining it is – at least to those of us passionate about family history! Now you can get started preparing to get the most out of the 1940 population schedules right away.
There’s another way to prep for the big release. Learn more about the 1940 enumeration process by watching the National Archives YouTube channel’s four short videos created by the US Census Bureau prior to 1940. These films were used to train enumerators on their general duties and responsibilities, as well as the correct procedures for filling out the 1940 census.
Though family historian tend to focus on the population schedule, there were several different schedules created and the films describe the main ones including the population, agriculture, and housing schedules. (Learn more about the various census schedules by listening to Family History: Genealogy Made EasyEpisode 10 featuring Curt Witcher.)
You’ll also learn more about the background of the census and the reasons behind the questions that were asked. And it’s the reasons behind the questions that shed even more light on what the priorities were back at that time and clues as to what life was like.
The films also cover the duties of the enumerators, highlighting the three major principles they were instructed to follow: accuracy, complete coverage, and confidential answers.
Featured this week is a fantastic resource for anyone searching for Dutch ancestors! Open Archives recently celebrated reaching 200 million historical person entries and collaborates with dozens of libraries and genealogical societies to make them all available online...
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1
Did you know there is a gem of a genealogical resource right in your own backyard? Well, at least in your own neighborhood—and also in just about every neighborhood where your ancestors lived. The public library is one of the most underestimated sources of genealogical information around! It’s free. It has better hours than most government-run agencies. There are staff with research skills, knowledge of their locale and knowledge about their collections. I have invited Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to join us here on the podcast. In this episode she’s going to give us the inside scoop on the unique genealogical resources that are tucked away in public libraries just waiting to be discovered.
What’s at the library?
Each library has unique materials for its locale. Examples include:
Partnerships with local societies and clubs, and organizations (access to databases)
Unique library expertise
TIP: Check with the public libraries in each location where your ancestors lived TIP: Genealogy holdings vary, and often have to do with what local constituents want.
TIP: Get involved and make requests at your local library if you want more genealogy resources.
How to prepare for your visit
Determine your questions ahead of time and gather the appropriate ancestor information to take with you.
See if they have a genealogy area on the website. There are lots of things on the library website that are not in the catalogue (special exhibits, digitized images, and databases) Don’t just jump straight to the catalogue.
Search the online catalog and identify the books and resources you want
Look for the geographic area, not the person’s surname (town, county, geographical area)
Use the Advanced search – “you don’t have to be an advanced researcher to use the advanced search!”
Don’t use the word “genealogy” in your search. It’s pretty useless.
4 more tips from Lisa and Patricia
Email in advance – ask some questions ahead of time:
Is the website up to date?
Reconfirm hours of operation
What’s the best time to come for more service?
Is wi-fi available?
Do you need change for copy machines?
Are there any special collections you should know about?
Do they offer orientations?
Plan a group visit: Some libraries will make special accommodations for a group visit. Ask if they will provide a tour geared to genealogy. And they may have a meeting room where you can have lunch or meet. It’s a small investment in time and money to make sure that you’re going to get the most of the time you’re going to spend there.
Get their expertise! Librarians don’t just know the collection, but they also know research strategy, collection contents, all the questions that have come before, and local area resources.
Phrase your questions for success: Pose questions in terms of a query. For example: “I’m trying to find evidence of someone’s death during this time frame. What materials do you have that may help?” (Don’t just ask specifically for obituaries or government death records—they may not have one but they may have other resources you’re not thinking of.)
Tune in next week to Episode 35 to learn more about researching at the public library, like tips for advance searching those online card catalogs, thinking like a librarian, unique collections at librarians and the types of questions you can ask your public library staff.