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Genealogy Research at Your Local Public Library

Genealogy Research at Your Local Public Library

Most genealogists start their research online these days.  There are so many websites, both free and subscription based, that offer a wide range of genealogy information from family trees to copies of death certificates.  At some point, though, the lesson is learned that it’s not all online.  There are still hidden treasures in offline places that you might not think to visit.

Do you need to plan a trip to Salt Lake City or the National Archives?  What about driving to the county where your ancestors lived and visiting the courthouse and local cemeteries?  These are certainly fun trips to take and something every genealogist should do if possible, but trips can be expensive and time consuming.  Many people don’t realize that the public library in their own backyard could house a genealogy goldmine.

I work in a genealogy library in Oklahoma and our patrons are often surprised at what our collection contains.  Although our focus is on Oklahoma and surrounding states, we have books from Alabama to Wyoming.  In addition to Tulsa marriage records, Oklahoma cemetery books, and an American Indian collection, you can find Revolutionary and Civil War records, books on Virginia families, or Massachusetts and Connecticut town records.  We also have a large collection of Family Books that have been donated to us over the years.

Just the other day, we had a patron who had stacks of books from several states spread out across a table.  He was tracking a family’s migration from the Eastern shores to Oklahoma Territory.  He apologized for getting so many books out.  “But I’m finding a goldmine!”, he said.  We of course, informed him that we were happy for his success and pleased to see him using the books.

If you’ve ever visited the some of the larger genealogy collections around the country like the Allen County Public Library, http://www.genealogycenter.org, then you may know what that patron felt like.  Keep in mind that some smaller libraries may have great collections, too, and they have something else, a dedicated staff.

Staff who work or volunteer in a public library genealogy department are almost always, genealogists themselves.  If you ask for help, you may find they have experience working in a part of the country you are researching and know just which resources their collection contains in that area.  In addition, if you are researching in your own town or state, there’s no one better to ask than a local.

If you do travel to a place where your ancestors lived, don’t just visit the court house or the archives.  Find the public library, too, and see what they have.  Most libraries have websites with their catalogs online so you can plan your research ahead of time.  Even if you are just going to your city or county library a few miles away, it makes sense to be prepared.

Collections will vary in size according to the population of the surrounding area but I was surprised for example, when I visited the library in Henderson, Kentucky a few years ago, (population 28,757) that they had so much available.  At the time, Kentucky death records were not online but they were available on microfilm at the library and I was able to get several death certificates in one sitting.    I even walked away with nice looking canvas tote bag.  Hey, nothing says “I’ve been there,” like a tote bag.

You can see the HPL’s genealogy resources here:   http://www.hcpl.org/resources/genealogy.html

The website for the Tulsa City County Library Genealogy Center is: http://guides.tulsalibrary.org/genealogy

To find the genealogy collection closest to you, start with the old fashioned phone book or yellow pages (if you can get one).  There are also (not surprisingly) some lists online.  Just googling for genealogy libraries I can up with a few.  The following page has several listed but not all are linked. https://www.gwest.org/gen_libs.htm  While I can’t verify the completeness of the list but it is a good starting point.

About Liz Walker

Liz Walker
Liz Walker was born in Indiana and raised in Missouri. She has lived in Oklahoma, former Indian Territory, for more than 27 years. Her own family research leads her east of the Mississippi but working in an Oklahoma Genealogy Library has taught her about the complicated research involved in finding Five Civilized Tribes ancestors. Liz can be found blogging at http://dearestbobbie.wordpress.com and at http://walkerfamilyconnections.wordpress.com. Liz is the author of IDG’s bi-monthly column, Indian Territory Genealogy.
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