Whether you aren’t sure where to start researching your family tree or you’ve hit a dead-end, there’s one reliable option you can always turn to: your local library.
For this week’s genealogy prompt, take some time to explore what family history resources your local library provides. They’re generally all free, and they can come with the benefit of an experienced librarian to guide you.
Your Local Library Might Offer These Family History Resources
Here are five types of genealogy resources you might find at your local library:
Books to Teach You About Genealogy
Start by browsing the stacks. Your library should have a general genealogy section where you can find books to teach you the basics.
This might include workbooks with worksheets you can photocopy and fill out, and you’re likely to find books about researching specific groups of people (such as Irish family history or the migration of a particular group of people).
Books About Local History
If your ancestors have a long history in your current local area, look for books on local history as well.
This can be especially useful if your ancestors played any notable role in the area, such as being an early settler or a locally-famous personality (like a former politician).
Many libraries will also let patrons access Ancestry.com without paying for a personal membership.
While this was available temporarily off-site due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at this time you’ll likely have to access Ancestry from one of your library’s on-site computers again. It’s not the most convenient option, but if you’re just getting started or you can’t afford the subscription right now, it’s still a deal that can’t be beat.
If you use this tool at your local library, make it a point to go in with a plan. Know who you’re researching or what record databases you plan to access beforehand whenever possible. Your library might have time limits depending on how strong the demand is for on-site computer access.
Access to Old Newspapers
Your local library might also have access to newspaper archives from your area.
If so, you might be able to find stories mentioning ancestors that would give you insight into their lives. Or you could find engagement announcements or obituaries that might help you confirm dates or find mentions of relatives you hadn’t identified yet (such as whom a deceased relative left behind).
While this isn’t true of all libraries, some also have something called a genealogy room. These offer curated collections of books and other documents related to your town’s history, its founders, and published family histories.
Library genealogy rooms often contain some delicate items, and that means you might need special permission or a scheduled appointment to access them. Their hours can also be different from those of the library as a whole, so check with the library before showing up expecting to get instant access.
Beyond Your Local Library
While your local library can provide a wealth of information to help in your genealogy research, don’t limit yourself. Look beyond it to find even more resources. For example:
- See if your state or county has a broader library system you have access to.
- Check if you can get a library card with a larger library nearby that might have access to more online databases.
- If you take a family history trip, see if there’s a genealogy room you can visit elsewhere if your ancestors didn’t reside in your current location.
There is so much free and accessible information out there for amateur genealogists if you’re simply willing to look for it. Your local library is a great place to start.