Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Your Friendly Local Library

Libraries are awesome. Among many many fantabulous things you can do at your local library, they can help you with genealogy research in a multitude of ways.

  The Complete Idiot's Guide To
Writing Your Family History
By: Lynda Rutledge Stephenson
First of all and most obviously, libraries are full of books. Duh, right? There are tons of books that will help you immensely in your research. I've only begun to delve into some of these books myself, and I have already found a lot of great tips that have made me better at researching. Not only can they make us better researchers, books can help us understand the time periods our ancestors lived in, the history of their homelands, their occupations, wars they may have fought in, and so much more.

In Search of Our Roots
By: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
There are hundreds of books out there for any subject you can think of to help you write your family's story, and chances are they're sitting right in your local library waiting for you to come and check them out. You have access to all of these books without having to shell out hundreds of dollars to take advantage of everything they have to offer. Just the other day I took out 4 genealogy books from my library, and the receipt informed me that I had saved over $70. Score! The books are mine for 3 weeks and my notebook fills up with all of the helpful advice for me to visit over and over again whenever I need it. If I need to I can just check the book out again for free. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me. 

Another resource that libraries have are librarians. Another duh, but it's true! Reference librarians are a great help for genealogists and historians. They are knowledgable about local history and can direct you towards the many resources the library offers. Not only that, but they are always willing to personally help you dig up any piece of information about your ancestors that you may need help with. I have one right now hot on the trail of my great-grandparents' marriage record. 
If your ancestors lived in a different town or state than you, don't hesitate to hit up the reference librarian who lives in their town or one of their neighboring towns. They can use their local resources to help you find a record, find your ancestor in a local newspaper, find a book about the town's history that may pertain to your ancestor's life, or help you in a multitude of other ways. If they can't come up with what you need the first time, keep trying! Sometimes they miss things and need to take a second (or third) look, so be persistent.

Libraries also offer (free!) access to databases that can aid you in your research. 
HeritageQuest is one of them. They offer census records from 1790-1940, over 28,000 family and local history books, Periodical Source Index (PERSI), Revolutionary War records, Freedman's Bank, and the US Serial Set. The website explains all of these amazing resources and how to use them to your full advantage. It's a good alternative to pay sites, and all you need is your library card number to gain access! 
American Ancestors is another free resource your library might offer, brought to you by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. While using American Ancestors you will have access to over 200 million historical databases pertaining to New England, New York, and beyond. You will also have access to over 28 million bible records, diaries, account books, research notes, and more. There are discussion boards, and even an Ask a Genealogist feature to get expert advice on any problem you might have. 

Did you know that you can even take free online courses through your library? 
Learn4Life (Formerly Ed2Go) offers a genealogy course which would cost $99 if not for your local library. If you sign up through your library's website, you can take this course, or any other of the awesome courses that Learn4Life has, for free! There are class message boards to connect with other students, and professors are always available to answer your questions. 

You might even be able to join a genealogy group at your local library, like I did. It has been a lot of fun getting to know new people who are interested in genealogy, and I've already learned a lot of cool stuff. A lot of what I've discussed in this post I learned in my genealogy group. We meet once a month, but the conversations continue on our group's Facebook page, so when we have a problem and need advice, someone is usually there to help or bounce ideas off of. If your library doesn't have a genealogy group, let them know that you'd be interested in one. Maybe seeing that people are interested would make them think about creating a group.

In conclusion, libraries rule. You can get loads of library swag (should I trademark that?) that will make you a better genealogist and family historian. But more importantly libraries can help you understand your ancestors better by teaching you about when they lived, where they lived, and how they lived. All you need is a library card, and your ancestor's world is at your fingertips.

Many thanks to my friend and reference librarian Cindy Grove for helpful information about using libraries for genealogy! You can visit her blog here. Thanks Cindy!

*Your library may not offer everything I've shown in this post (they might offer even more), so ask the local reference librarian what resources your library has. 

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