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.

Lincoln Collection at the Allen County Public Library

Ever since the announcement that the documents from the Lincoln Collection at the former Lincoln Museum would move to the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, I’ve been anxious to see just what treasures are in the collection. If the first round of digital images are any indication, the collection is beyond “cool.”

When the Lincoln Museum closed, the Lincoln Financial Foundation gave the artifacts to the Indiana State Museum and the records to the Allen County Public Library. Work has begun on digitizing the records and posting them online. The images that they’ve posted so far are rather tantalizing. My favorite is an undated note written by Lincoln: “Let Master Tad have a Navy sword. A. Lincoln”.

Although not part of the Lincoln Collection, the Genealogy Center at ACPL also has posted an image of a silk ribbon commemorating Lincoln’s death. As they note on the website, it is a rare glimpse into life in Fort Wayne at the time, as the newspapers from April 1865 have been lost.

A recent article in the Journal Gazette has some behind-the-scene photos and more detail about the Lincoln Collection at ACPL. It will be interesting to watch as more and more images are posted on the Lincoln Collection website.

Save Ohio’s Public Libraries

Save Ohio LibrariesGovernor Ted Strickland’s proposed state budget includes a nearly 50% cut in the state’s Public Library Fund. This will be devastating to all public libraries, especially to the approximately two-thirds of public libraries that don’t receive local funding.

In such difficult economic times, public libraries play an increasingly important role in society. They provide vital Internet access. (Think of how many employers today require applicants to fill out online applications.) They assist students. They provide education, such as computer training. Without these services, those who are unemployed or disadvantaged are going to find it even more difficult to get ahead.

There will be a rally at the Statehouse tomorrow (June 25) at 11:30am. Attendees are urged to wear RED and bring their library cards. Signs are encouraged, but please do not place them on sticks or poles. 

More information on the proposed budget cuts can be found at the Ohio Library Council website.

There is a Save Ohio’s Libraries group on Facebook.

I hope to see you at the Statehouse tomorrow!

Ohio Historical Society is closed this week

A reminder to everyone that the Ohio Historical Society — including the Archives/Library — is closed today (March 28) through April 3. You can thank the Ohio legislature and their massive slashing of OHS’ budget for this.

Other OHS sites closed this week are:

  • Adena Mansion & Gardens (Chillicothe)
  • Armstrong Air & Space Museum (Waupakoneta)
  • Campus Martius Museum (Marietta)
  • Dunbar House (Dayton)
  • Fort Ancient (Oregonia)
  • Fort Meigs (Perrysburg)
  • Harding Home (Marion)
  • National Afro-American Museum (Wilberforce)
  • National Road/Zane Grey Museum (Zanesville)
  • Piqua Historical Area (Piqua)
  • Serpent Mound (Peebles)
  • Wahkeena Nature Preserve (Lancaster)
  • Youngstown Historical Center of Industry & Labor (Youngstown)
  • Zoar Village (Zoar)

You can read the “Special Notice” on the OHS website:  http://www.ohiohistory.org/sn/010509.html