3 Things to Ask a Genealogy Librarian

genealogy librarian

You’ve read the books. You’ve searched in the databases. But did you know that one of the best resources in a genealogy library is often the librarian? Get more out of your visits to the library by asking these three things.

1. "Can you help me?"​

I’ve noticed that there seems to be a hesitation about asking a librarian anything. The reasons people give are often, “She looks busy” or “He’ll think this is a stupid question.” Here’s the scoop: The librarian wants to help you. Yes, she has some work with her while she’s at the reference desk. But when she is at the desk, her main responsibility is to help you. As for the “stupid questions,” I think most librarians would agree with me that the only truly stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.

2. "Do you have any collections that aren't in the catalog?"​

Just because the library has it, doesn’t mean that it’s in the catalog. Things like obituary files, newspaper clipping collections, vertical files, and rare books may not be included. Be sure to ask the librarian about these hidden gems.

3. "Are there other places that could have the resources I'm looking for?"​

This is an especially useful question when you have a very specific research focus. The librarian might be able to point you to those “off the beaten path” places — the tiny historical society, the obscure museum, the church archive — that could have just what it is you’re looking for.

Next time you’re at the library, go beyond the books and the databases. Avail yourself of one of the best resources there: the knowledge of the librarian. As Neil Gaiman once said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”​

Get more out of your trips to the library by asking the librarian these three questions.

A Growing Source for Free Genealogy: Digital Public Library of America

What’s better than a website that gives access to more than 16 million digitized items? A website that does it for free. That’s just what the Digital Public Library of America does. DPLA is constantly growing and fast becoming a "must visit" website for free genealogy resources.

What Is the Digital Public Library of America?

Digital Public Library of America - DPLA

DPLA is a project involving more than 1,600 libraries, archives, and museums across the U.S. They range from the big ones, like the Smithsonian and the New York Public Library, all the way to the little ones, like the Starke County (Indiana) Historical society. Together, these libraries have contributed more than 16 million digitized items, such as photographs, newspapers, posters, and diaries.

Did I mention it's free?

DPLA doesn't have just an index of the items. It has links to where you can find the items online. If you find it on DPLA, there will be a link to the image. Just look for the "View Object" link and it will take you right to it.

Finding Hidden Gems

One of the neat things about DPLA is that you can find items in places that you wouldn't think to look. Would you think to look in the Tennessee State Library & Archives for a letter from someone in the 7th Ohio Cavalry? It wouldn't be my first place to look, that's for sure. But a simple search on DPLA turned up this gem.  

It also turns up items that you likely won't find in a regular Google search.

What to Look for

Look for things that you would look for in any library. Don't limit yourself to just searching for your ancestor's name. Think about:

  • Where your ancestor lived​
  • Events in his/her life
  • Organizations (fraternal, military, etc.)
  • Occupations
  • Religion

You never know what you'll find!

Here's a short video to introduce you to using DPLA:

DPLA is a site that you'll want to add to your list of "regular" websites for your genealogy. Give it a try and let me know what you discover!

Want more free genealogy resources? Download my guide "10 Essential Free Genealogy Resources":

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