Visiting the library is fun, but it’s more enjoyable when you feel like you’re making some progress with your research. Here are 6 tips to help you have a better library visit. Continue reading
If you’ve ever been in a library with a genealogy collection, you’ve probably seen signs that say, “Do Not Reshelve the Books.” There’s a good reason why you shouldn’t reshelve genealogy books… and it’s probably not the reason you think. Continue reading
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.”
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?
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.)
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":
Think about your answer. Did you think of a time when you walked through their doors? That’s good, but if you think about libraries only as a brick-and-mortar resource for your genealogy, you’re missing a lot. There is a lot more to public library websites than just an online catalog.
Great Things in Small Packages
It’s easy to get excited about websites with billions of records. The more records, the more likely you’ll find something, right?
Honestly, I don’t care how big the database is as long as it has something I need. That’s the cool thing about public library databases. They tend to be focused on a particular area or subject. They might not have the breadth of the big websites, but they take a deeper dive. They uncover resources that are too small or too esoteric to end up on a large commercial site.
Not Just the Big Libraries
When you think about public libraries with great genealogy collections, you probably think about The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Clayton Library Center in Houston, Texas. They have two of the largest genealogy collections in the U.S. If any library is going to have online databases, it would be them… and they do.
But they aren’t the only public libraries with cool things for us to explore online. Libraries of all sizes are giving us easier access to the materials in their collections. Consider these:
- The Evansville Vanderburgh (Indiana) Public Library has the “Browning Genealogy Database,” an index of more than 537,000 obituary and news items dating from the 1800s to the present.
- The Sandusky (Michigan) District Library has a large genealogy section, including cemetery readings, church books, yearbooks and more on its site. (I wish I had ancestors in Sanilac County!)
- The Calcasieu Parish (Louisiana) District Library has an obituary index, a large scrapbook index, and a digitized copy of the 1895-1896 city directory for the area. That city directory is important not only because of the loss of the 1890 census, but also because of a courthouse fire the town suffered in 1910.
None of those are what you would call huge libraries, but they have great resources that we can use from wherever we connect to the Internet.
Finding the Library and the Genealogy It Has Online
Your favorite search engine can find public libraries quite handily. The challenge is that you might not find all of the ones in the area. In my county, there are 8 different public library systems — and not all of them have the name of their town in it.
When I want to explore public libraries for an area where my ancestors lived, I look at the website of the county genealogical society and the county’s GenWeb page. They usually have links to the libraries in their county.
Once you find a library you’re interested in, you might need to be creative in looking for its online genealogy resources. Look not only for links to “Genealogy” and “Local History,” but also things like “Resources,” “Research,” “Community,” “Digital Library,” or “Digital Memory.”
Going to a library’s website before a visit is an important step in having a successful research trip. But we should also explore these sites even when we aren’t planning on walking through their (physical) doors. We should incorporate public library websites into all of our genealogy research.
What cool things have you found on public library websites?