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.

The Best Way to Find Free Old Maps at DavidRumsey.com

Our ability to find our ancestors is rooted in two important pieces of information: the locations where they lived and the time frames in which they lived there. This means that old maps are essential to our genealogy research.  

The good news is that there is an abundance of free digitized old maps available online. One of the best resources is the David Rumsey Map Collection website. There you will find over 100,000 free digitized historic maps. These maps span the globe and centuries.  They are perfect for bringing geographic perspective to your family tree.

Best way to find old maps for genealogy

Elevenses with Lisa Show Notes

In this episode 36 of my free webinar video series Elevenses with Lisa I’ll show you how to navigate this ever-expanding free website. Watch the video and then follow along with the show notes in this article. Here you’ll find answers to questions such as:

  • What’s the best way to find maps at David Rumsey’s map website?
  • What is the difference between the search tools (Luna Viewer and MapRank Search)?
  • What are the advanced search techniques for finding the old maps?
  • How can I download maps at DavidRumsey.com?
  • Is it OK to use the maps from DavidRumsey.com in my family history projects?

Rumsey Historical Maps in Google Earth

As we discussed in Ways to Use Google Earth for Genealogy (Elevenses with Lisa episode 12) there are approximately 120 Rumsey old maps available for free in Google Earth. You can find them in the Layers Panel under Gallery.  Each map is already georeferenced as an overlay for you.

ways to use google earth for genealogy with Lisa Louise Cooke

Click image to watch the video and read the article on ways to use Google Earth for genealogy

You can also create your own overlays in Google Earth using Rumsey Maps or digitized maps from other sources. I cover this step-by-step in chapter 16 of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

Best Strategies for Finding Free Old Maps

Once you’ve exhausted the few hundred old maps in Google Earth, head to the David Rumsey Map Collection website. Rumsey’s collection includes over 150,000 map, over 100,000 of which have been digitized and are available for free on his website. 

Copyright and Use Permission

You will probably be anxious to use these wonderful old maps in a variety of ways. The Rumsey website provides clear direction on copyright and use permission. Go to: DavidRumsey.com > Home Page > About > Copyright and Permissions.

The good news is that generally speaking, you are free to download and use the digitized maps for your own personal use.

The Best Way to View the Maps

There are several ways to view maps:

  • The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
  • The GeoReferencer: Help georeferenced maps, compare maps overlays
  • MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place
  • Google Earth: 120 maps in the Layers panel, 140 can be added
  • Google Maps: 120 maps included
  • Second Life: View some in 3 dimensions and at a huge scale. Location: Rumsey Map Islands. Includes a welcome center with hundreds of maps, and a 600 meter tall map cylinder showing hundreds of maps.
  • The Collections Ticker: Pop-out distraction!
  • Insight Java Client: Downloadable workspace

Of this list, the best two tools to user are:

  1. The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
  2. MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place

I will show you how to use each. Note that in these examples we will be using a computer to search the site rather than a mobile device or tablet.

The Luna Viewer: How to browse & search the maps

In the main menu under View Collection select the Luna Viewer. Under Luna Viewer click the Launch Luna Viewer button.

Luna Viewer at David Rumsey Map Collection

The Luna Viewer at David Rumsey Map Collection

Tips for keyword searching:

  • In most cases it helps to start with a fairly broad search to see the full range of available maps
  • Be cautious with abbreviations. “MN” does not return “Minn” or “Minnestota”.
  • Advance search provides you with the use of full Boolean operators like “and,” “or,” “greater than,” “contains,” and others.
  • After a search, to return to the full collection, click on “show all” under the search button.

Let’s look at an example of using the keyword search in tandem with the Refine column. If you search for New York City, you will be searching all of the data associated with the maps. Since many maps may have been published in New York City, you will likely see many maps for other areas. You can improve this search by going to the Refine column and under Where clicking on New York City.

The Refine column will show you the first five options in each category (What, Where, Who, When). Click More to reveal all of the additional refining options in that category.

Refine map search David Rumsey

Click More to see all refining options in the Luna Viewer

From the returned results, click a map to view it.

You can select multiple items in the Refine column to filter more narrowly. Remove a filter by clicking it under Remove at the top of the Refine column.

Like genealogical records, old maps may include several pages. Look above the blue BUY PRINT button to see the number of Related maps. In my example of a map of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, there were two map pages available. Click Related to display all of the available pages.

David Rumsey map related results

Click the Related link to view all related map pages.

DavidRumsey.com Advanced Search

The Advanced Search feature can be found in two locations:

  • Inside the search box – click your mouse in the box and select Advanced Search from the drop-down list
  • At the bottom of the Refine column on the left side of the screen.

Advanced Search gives you more control over how you search. Let’s look at an example by searching for Sanborn fire insurance maps. 

Searching for Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The David Rumsey Map Collection website includes many Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These maps were created for insurance purposes and provide an incredible amount of detail about individual buildings and dwellings in a given neighborhood.

I recommend using the Advanced Search feature to search for these maps. This is because over the years the name of the company as publisher changed.

How to Find Sanborn Maps:

  1. Click on Advanced Search at the bottom of the Refine column
  2. In the “find all of these words” section, click Fields and select Publisher
  3. Type in Sanborn
  4. On the results page, go to the Refine column and Who click More
  5. There are at least six variations of the Sanborn publishing name.

Old Map books and atlases often include valuable historical text often called historical sketches. You can find these using the Advanced search. Search for the exact phrase Historical Sketch. Run this search and then in the Refine column under Where select an area of interest.

How to Download Maps from DavidRumsey.com

  1. Click the map from the results list
  2. On the map’s dedicated page click the EXPORT button at the top of the page.
  3. Select the appropriate size from the drop-down list. (Larger maps may take a few moments to download)
  4. Typically the maps will download to the Downloads folder on your computer

Tips for Selecting Download (Export) Map Size:
Save space on your computer and future headaches by selecting the correct size map for your use. If you plan on using the map to create an overlay or create a nice large print, select the largest size possible ( I recommend at least Extra Large for creating map overlays in the Google Earth.) This will ensure that the map doesn’t appear fuzzy when you Zoom in. High-resolution is also recommended when printing. For example, if you plan on including the map in a book about your family’s history (for personal use, not for resale) a high-resolution map will print crisp and clear. Maps for use on the web or something like a PowerPoint presentation would be fine at lower resolutions.

MapRank Search at DavidRumsey.com

The MapRank Search “app” at the David Rumsey Map Collection website allows you to browse & search 6000 maps by two important criteria: Time & Place.

There are two ways to find the MapRank Search:

  1. In the main menu under View Collection click MapRank Search. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Launch MapRank Search
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the home page until you see Featured App – MapRank Search, and click the Launch MapRank Search

How to Find Maps Using MapRank Search:

  1. Start with entering the location name in the search box (in the upper right corner) and click the Find a Place
  2. The location will appear on the modern-day map. The old maps that match the location will appear in the column on the right, prioritized starting with the map that most closely matches what you searched.
  3. Below the modern-day map, move the time slider levers to narrow in on the desired time frame.
  4. Note that the old maps in the results column will change based on the specified time frame.
  5. Broaden the location if desired by zooming out a bit on the modern-day map. Note that the results list will change as you zoom.
  6. Hover your mouse over a map in the results list and notice that a reddish-brown box will appear the selected map and will also appear on the modern-day map. This indicates the area of the map that the old map covers. This will aid you in selecting the map that will suit your needs.
  7. Click a map from the results list and it will open in a new browser tab, although some maps will appear as an overlay on the modern-day map. In that case, click the Luna Viewer button to go to the page where the map can be downloaded.

How to Compare Modern-day Maps with Old Maps

Whether you have found the map by searching with the Luna Viewer or the MapRank Search you will eventually find yourself on the page where the single map is displayed. On the left is the source information.

In the upper right corner of the screen click the View in GeoReferencer button. You will be taken to a page where you can view the old map overlayed on the modern-day map. In the upper right corner move the slider to make the old map transparent so that you can compare between the two maps.

Recap: Comparing the Two Best Search Tools at DavidRumsey.com

Luna Viewer:
– 100,000 maps
– Search, then refine
– Sometimes glitchy interface

MapRank Search:
– 6000+ maps
– More control with time slider & map
– Map results list ranked by closest coverage

Live Chat Q&A: Answers to Your Questions About David Rumsey Maps

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

From Megan: What is the difference between Google Earth and My Maps?
From Lisa: Google Earth is a free software download. This is where I create what I call family history tours. They are a collection of data points and media that come together as a research tool and storytelling tool. My Maps are created in Google Maps. I prefer creating in Google Earth because it offers more tools and options, and it’s where I keep all my mapping work. 

From Gwynn: Heard in the past Java Client might have security holes has this been fixed?
From Lisa: Read more about the latest on Java Client at the website’s FAQ page

From GeneBuds: Must set up account to use Luna Viewer?
From Lisa: No, you don’t have to have an account to use the Luna Viewer. “Registering for an account allows you to save your work and preferences, search external media, create Media Groups and Presentations, customize your settings, create annotations, and upload your own content.” As I mentioned in the video, I prefer to do all my work in Google Earth. 

From Gwynn: Sanborn Fire Maps: Where do I find the Key to the symbols? Are they the same from year to year or do they change?
From Lisa: Here’s the main resource page for Sanborn maps at the Library of Congress. You will find specific information about interpreting the maps including Keys and Colors here.

From Karen: ​If you are specifically looking for plat maps for our US farmers would you put the word plat in the search field?
From Lisa: I would use the Advanced Search and enter the word plat in the “Find all these words” box. Click the plus sign to add an additional “Find all these words” field and type in the name of the location. If that doesn’t deliver the desired result, omit the location and just search on the word plant. Then, on the results page, go to the Refine column and under Where click More. Then you have a nice list to browse. You might spot a map that includes your location. TIP: When you find a result, be sure to check the Related number at the top of the page so that you didn’t miss any additional pages of the map. 

From Mark: Lisa and Bill, is the intro music something that you all wrote?
From Lisa and Bill: No, it’s by a talented musician named Dan Lebowitz. Our goal this year was to learn to play it ourselves 🙂 We’re glad you love it as much as we do!

Resources

Get My Free Genealogy Gems Weekly Email Newsletter 
The newsletter is your guide to upcoming shows, articles, videos, podcasts and new Premium content.

Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. 
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

Please leave your comment or question below

Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re here to help!

 

Findmypast Library Edition: Request it At Your Public Library!

findmypast library editionfindmypast now has a Library Edition available within the United States. Patrons of subscribing libraries can now have access to their billions of records from England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Highlights of what you’ll find on findmypast Library Edition include:

  • Largest online collection of U.K. parish records;
  • Exclusive access to the new PERiodical Source Index (now with images);
  • Most comprehensive Irish family history records in the world.

Findmypast’s version of PERSI, the Periodical Source Index, includes more than 2.5 million indexed entries from thousands of genealogical and local history publications–AND a growing number of digitized articles! Click here to read more about PERSI, which we love.

Here’s How You Can Use FindMyPast for Free
We asked Josh Taylor at FMP how subscribers and non-subscribers can use the Library Edition:

1) “FMP subscribers can login to their own accounts while at the library.”

2) “Also, library users who are not paid subscribers can create a free account that allows them to create a tree, store, and attach records they view while at the library. The free account works like a standard Findmypast account so can be used at home to access their tree (and even get automatic hints).”

We’ve blogged about the Hints feature here at Genealogy Gems.

stick_figure_ride_mouse_400_wht_9283Ready to do some library research? We’ve got more tips for you, like:

Finally, here’s an important tip: let your voice be heard at your public library! They need to know how many people care about genealogy and family history. They need to know what databases you’re most interested in accessing. In an era of struggle for many public libraries, they have to prioritize their energies, so tell them what you want to learn!

Episode 211

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode #211 with Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa and Barry by Beth Forester

Photo Credit: Beth Forester

In this episode, host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke talks with Barry Moreno, Historian at Ellis Island. Hear about the life cycle of this busy U.S. immigration station (1892-1954) and Barry’s research into thousands of Ellis Island employees who worked there.

 

More Episode Highlights

Archive Lady Melissa Barker tells us about the National Archives Citizen Archivist program and Lisa profiles a volunteer effort coordinated by the British Library to geo-tag thousands of old maps that are already online.

A giant genealogy lost-and-found! Two listeners write in about rescuing old artifacts and returning them to those who might be interested.

Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss talks about Official Military Personnel Files for 20th-century US servicemen and women?files that were unfortunately partially destroyed. Hear what he learned about his grandfather.

Genealogy News

National Archives Citizen Archivist Project, reported by The Archive Lady, Melissa Barker

The British Library Georeferencing Project

Flickr Commons collection of digitized maps from the British Library Collections?mostly 19th century maps from books published in Europe.

Use Google Earth for genealogy! Check out these resources:

FREE Google Earth for Genealogy video

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke. This book has 7 full chapters on Google Earth! Available in print.

Google Earth for Genealogy Video Training by Lisa Louise Cooke. Available now as a digital download.

 

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

 

New Video for Premium Members

“Share Your Life Stories More Meaningfully” Premium Video

Every life is fascinating when it’s well shared! Learn from the author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy what stories you have that are worth telling–and several inspiring reasons to write them. Review different kinds of memories, why some memories are more vivid that others, and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories.

Genealogy Gems App Bonus Content

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a preview of the new Premium video class, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully” by Contributing Editor Sunny Morton. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

Mailbox: Roland’s Heirloom Rescue

Mailbox: New Listener Photo Rescue Project

What can you do with a collection of unidentified photos?

Return them to a loving home. In this case, it was a local historical society. Linda wisely kept the collection together because often there’s power in what some of the photos may tell you about others.

Get them digitized and online so those who want them can find them. The historical society put images on Find A Grave memorials and Iowa GenWeb. They even plan to display them for locals to look at personally and try to identify!

Historical and genealogical societies can also share mystery photos on their websites (or their local library’s website if they don’t have their own) or on their blogs, Facebook pages or even in their regular newsletters. These are great conversation pieces, especially when you can later report that you have solved the mystery! (Click here for more tips aimed at supporting genealogy societies.)

Photo mystery SOLVED: Savvy tips to identify old photos

Rootsmagic

Visit www.RootsMagic.com

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

MILITARY MINUTES: OFFICIAL MILITARY PERSONNEL FILES

The military service files for your ancestors who served during the twentieth century or later are located at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO as part of the National Archives. The files are called the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) and are available for each of the military branches; namely; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Researchers should be keenly aware of the devastating fire that occurred on July 12, 1973 at the research facility that destroyed or damaged between 16-18 million service files from the United States Army and the Air Force. Remember that the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.

National Archives at St. Louis. Overview of the holdings, media articles and PowerPoint presentations (download as PDFs)

The 1973 Fire at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO

Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) Non-Archival Holdings

Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) Archival Holdings

Archival Research Room at the National Personnel Record Center (Request an Appointment, Availability of Records, Copy Fees, Hours of Operation, Hiring a Researcher)

Request Military Service Records (Online request for Veterans, Standard Form 180, or For Burials and Emergency Requests)

Mail Order Request for Record from the National Personnel Record Center (SF 180)

Zerbe H. Howard

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

Watch the video below for an example of a family history video made with Animoto:

 

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

INTERVIEW: BARRY MORENO, ELLIS ISLAND HISTORIAN

Photo Credit: Beth Forester

Barry Moreno is a leading authority on the history of Ellis Island, the famous receiving station for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892-1954. He has worked in the Museum Services Division at Ellis Island for more than a decade. He is the author of several books, including Children of Ellis Island, Ellis Island’s Famous Immigrants (including Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, and Max Factor) and Encyclopedia of Ellis Island (which includes information on displaced persons).

      

Ellis Island: Historical highlights

Prior to 1890, immigration was handled by the states (primarily New York, as most passed through the Port of New York).

1920-1921: New regulations cut down immigration dramatically. Each country had quotas that could not be exceeded. New regulations were passed requiring immigrants to

  • have a passport from their home country
  • have medical examinations
  • pay a tax to the American Consulate in their home country.

During the last 30 years, Ellis Island mostly handled immigrants who were “in trouble.”

Starting in the 1930s some immigrants arrived by air (Colonial Airways from Canada). After WWII, Air France started service, and German and Italian airlines came in the 1950s.

Ellis Island was closed in 1954 by President Eisenhower. Immigrants who were still detained when it closed were sent to jails.

After 1954, Ellis Island was still used by the Coast Guard for training and by the Public Health Services department.

Barry’s research on workers at Ellis Island:

Most employees were men. Interestingly, blue collar men tended to die before age 60, and better educated ones lived much longer.

Female employees were typically widows, unmarried or had husbands who did not support them. “Char woman” was a common role held by Irish, Swedish and German women. Char means “chores” (cleaning women). They worked often for about $400/ year with no pension, and lived to old ages.

A nursery was opened at Ellis Island; many Christian missionaries worked there. Ludmila Foxlee (1885-1971) was one of them, a social worker with the YWCA. Click here to read more immigrant aid workers at Ellis Island.

Three more great resources for discovering the stories of your immigrant ancestors:

What was it like to land on Ellis Island? Read this article and watch (for free) an award-winning, official documentary)

If your search at the Ellis Island website doesn’t retrieve your ancestors, head on over to Stephen P. Morse’s One Step Pages. There you will find dozens of links to search resources, including the Ellis Island Gold Form for arrivals between 1892 and 1924.  Even the folks at Ellis Island refer researchers to Morse’s site. Listen to Lisa’s interview with Stephen Morse in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #153.

In Lias’s free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast (episodes 29-31), genealogist Steve Danko covers immigration and naturalization records in depth and even offers up some little-known tips about deciphering some of the cryptic notes researchers often find on passenger lists.

 

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Contributor: Your DNA Guide
Michael Strauss, Contributor: Military Minutes
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Disclosure: This page 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 supporting this free podcast and blog!

Sign up for our FREE newsletter:

Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive a free weekly e-mail newsletter, with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals.

Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Download the show notes

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU