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

Posted: August 11, 2015.

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  • I DO have ancestors in Sanilac County! 🙂
    And the Sandusky (Michigan) District Library is a fabulous site! Thanks for highlighting them!

  • I do have ancestors in Sanilac county, and was pointed there by someone who read my blog. The Sandusky (MI) District Library has great online genealogy/local history resources (once I figured out the interface – not hard, just different). Now I always look to see if local libraries have helpful online resources.

  • Brownwood, Brown, Texas has a real jewel of a small research library located on the courthouse square in a pre-1885 building. Known as the “Local History & Genealogy Branch” of the Brownwood Public Library System, it contains over 5,000 printed research items, local City Directories from to 1909, local newspaper on microfilm from 1894, Year books for High School, Howard Payne and Daniel Baker Colleges from 1914, a digital micro-film/fiche scanner, computers with national databases with empirical data for the Heart of Texas Region.
    Located within 20 miles of the geographical center of Texas, it is an easy day trip for most out of area visitors.
    It is staffed with both paid library staff and a larger Pecan Valley Genealogical Society Volunteer Group. It is open 9:00am to 6:00pm, Tuesday thru Friday, except holidays. (325)646-6006, 213 S. Broadway, Brownwood, TX 76801.

  • Hi Amy, my mom was adopted in Arkansas back in the 50’s. My grandparents that adopted her have long passed away and she doesn’t have a birth certificate or know her true given name. I’ve paid monies to try and find this info, but continue to hit dead ends. Please help!

  • I have found not just info, but the willing help of librarians who were willing to look something up for me, since I didn’t live near the library in question. Thank you, Holmes County, Ohio librarians for being not just helpful, but nice.