How to Find Hidden Genealogy Resources in Libraries and Archives

Remember the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when they’re storing the Ark of the Covenant? The camera pulls back and there is an endless array of shelving, boxes, and books… and you get the sense that they’ll never find the Ark again. In truth, libraries and archives have catalogs so things can be found. Knowing how to dig into an online catalog is one of the best skills you can have as a genealogist. Here’s how you can use them to find genealogy resources, including ones that like to hide. Continue reading

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.

Library Websites for Genealogy: More Than Just the Catalog

library booksWhen was the last time you visited a public library for your genealogy research?

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:

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.”

Visit Virtually

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?

Library websites for genealogy

Proposed Funding Slash for Ohio’s Public Libraries

In a situation that is, sadly, not unique to Ohio, the proposed state budget contains a slash to funding for public libraries. On page B-8 of “The Jobs Budget: Transforming Ohio for Growth” Book One: The Budget Book is this proposal for funding to the Public Library Fund:

“The Executive Budget proposes a change in how funds are directed to the Public Library Fund. By statute, the Public Library Fund (PLF) is currently supposed to receive 2.22 percent of GRF tax revenues beginning in fiscal year 2012. Temporary law has restricted the PLF to receiving 1.97 percent in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The Executive Budget proposes a change to the distribution of these funds whereby starting in August 2011, the PLF will receive 95.0 percent of the fiscal year 2011 deposits. This proposal would result in an additional $68.5 million and $95.0 million deposited into the GRF in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, respectively.”

That a 5% cut on top of the cut public libraries have already taken.

Note how the last sentence is phrased: “This proposal would result in an additional $68.5 million and $95.0 million deposited into the GRF (General Revenue Fund) in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, respectively.” That $163.5 million that is not going to Ohio’s public libraries.

Note: the budget book linked to above is a 15 Mb PDF.