Friday, June 10, 2016

Ten Ways a Librarian Can Help You with your Genealogy Research

Every month on the 10th day I publish a "Top Ten" list pertaining to genealogy and family history.  In no particular order here are my top ten ways local public library librarians have helped me, in the past, to research my family tree in my ancestral hometowns…

1.)   A good librarian can help you get a good sense of the history of the area where your ancestors lived, and a feel for the community with local history books, county histories, maps, guidebooks, phone books, city/town directories and other local information.

2.)  A librarian will know what compiled genealogies are available on your ancestors and their surnames, and can assist you with the card catalog and other finding aids.  And librarians will know if there are files on local families, manuscripts and other books such as family bibles.  Some libraries keep genealogy queries in a file, and by perusing these letters you might learn of another researcher researching your particular surname or branch of the family tree.

3.)  Many communities do not have a museum or repository for the local historical society, and so their collections may be kept at the public library.  Speak to the reference librarian to see if these are available to the public.  Some libraries have a small museum or local history room where town papers, manuscripts, local history books and artifacts are kept.  This might be open to the public, by appointment only, or you might have to request access from the reference librarian who holds the key to a locked room.

4.) A local or regional library will have collections of small town and local newspapers, either in storage or on microfilm.  A librarian can explain the newspaper collections to you and get you set up on a microfilm machine to peruse the films or microforms.

5.)  The reference librarian can tell you about any online subscriptions you can use at the library that might be helpful, such as or  The librarian may also be able to give you the codes to using some subscription websites at home, such as HeritageQuest and Biography In Context, and even newspaper websites.   

6.)  Ask to see the vertical file collections.  These are usually newsclippings, notes, pamplets,  photographs, small publications,  and other epherma collected and stored in file folders.  It is usually uncataloged, so you never know what you might find there!   Some libraries even have a vertical file of patron submitted family tree charts and reports.

7.)  A librarian can help you with information on the local businesses and places of employment in your ancestral hometown.  Was there a large factory where immigrants worked?  A railroad depot?  A downtown shopping district?  Any information about these businesses or local trade similar to where your ancestors worked can be invaluable to telling their story.

8.)  Ask about collections of information on local cemeteries, churches and religious institutions, schools, fraternal organizations, social clubs, trade organizations, universities and other places that your ancestors and relatives may have belonged or left records.  You never know if the collections for these institutions were left to the local library (or the librarian might know where to look elsewhere for these records).

9.)  While you are visiting the library in your ancestral hometown, get to know the library staff and they will get to know you.  Ask if they know a patron or a town resident with the surnames you are researching.  Perhaps they can hook you up with a distant cousin while you are in town!  The staff will usually have good suggestions of local museums, historical societies and other places you should visit while you are in town doing your family history research.

10.)  Sometimes the local library doesn’t have everything you need, but a good librarian can tell you what might be available at the county, regional or state level.  A librarian can also arrange for materials to be requested via inter-library loans to any other library for your convenience.   He/she may even know the staff at the larger libraries and refer you to a specific archivist or librarian at the state library or state archives, so you will have a friendly face to greet you at your next stop!

Enjoy your trip to the library!  Good luck!


Published under a Creative Commons License

Heather Wilkinson Rojo,  "Ten Ten Ways a Librarian Can Help You with your Genealogy Research”, Nutfield Genealogy, posted June 10, 2016,  ( accessed [access date]). 

1 comment:

  1. When I was visiting my father's hometown, the librarian didn't have what I needed but he gave me the name and number of a local historian who could help me. Very helpful!