How Public Libraries Help in Long-Distance Genealogy Research

Trying to find information about your ancestors is difficult enough, but when you live hundreds or thousands of miles from where they spent their lives, it sometimes feels impossible. Long-distance genealogy means that you have little or no access to the courthouse, state archives or local cemeteries. Sometimes even writing inquiries to these places can be nonproductive. Many courthouses are short-staffed and politely respond that they have no time to answer genealogical queries. If they do have time, it sometimes takes several months to get document copies. Historical archives are friendly to genealogists, but some have research fees which can be difficult to pay. Some cemeteries have no staff at all, and it is difficult or impossible to find out about your ancestor’s burial grounds.

However, there are several solutions to digging up information without needing a five-hundred-mile-long shovel. One of the best sources of information is the local public library where your ancestors lived. Libraries often take on the responsibility of housing old newspapers, family papers, local history books, funeral books, and school yearbooks. They are repositories of history.

Educated librarians are ready to answer queries regarding local history and genealogy. However, they are not often genealogists themselves, and cannot answer general questions about a family who used to live in that area. You must do some research into the library’s holdings and policies before submitting a query.

Almost every library has online catalogs. To find out if your ancestor’s homeland has a library, check out http://lists.webjunction.org or www.publiclibraries.com. Remember to search for libraries under county names as well as townships.

Find the website of your ancestor’s local library and search their online catalog for local newspapers. There you might find that the library holds the local newspaper from the year of your ancestor’s death. An obituary might be found. Also search family history books for your surname of interest. These books are rarely loaned out, but a librarian can check for a reference for your ancestors. Many libraries also have a specific section on their websites for genealogy. This might include a list of local resources; links to genealogy websites specific to the area; and best of all, genealogical databases that the library has compiled and put online.

Once you find a source that relates to your ancestor, find out what they policy is for genealogical queries. Does the library have an email address for directing questions of that nature? Do they prefer snail mail? Do they have a research fee? (Most libraries do not have research fees, and will simply charge you for copies and postage. But there are some that do charge fees.) Do they have a genealogy department to whom you should direct your query? If you can’t find these answers on their website, call the reference section of the library and ask directly.

You now have the source you want to search and know the policy for queries, and you are ready to write the email or letter. Cite the source you want searched (include call number), give names and dates for your ancestors, and include all your contact information. If it is snail-mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope. With any luck, you may find some valuable genealogical information, thanks to a local public library.

Finding Free Genealogy Resources

A common misconception about tracing your family history is that it costs a lot of money. While there is some information that is only available for a fee, most people would be surprised to learn that there are a number of places to find free information for use in their genealogy research.
Archives

State archives often hold a variety of information from vital records to military listings and everything in between. A growing number of archives have begun offering a portion of their collections online. While on the archive’s website, just look for a link to their digital, virtual or online archives.

The Georgia Archives is one of many state archives that offers a number of free genealogy resources through their website. These include marriage records, Confederate Pension applications, limited death certificates, will books and county tax digests, just to name a few. While on the Archives website, look for a link to the Virtual Vault to see what all they have.

In many cases, you can download or print the records you find for free. Some archives do charge a fee for a copy of original records, but it’s usually inexpensive.

Your Local Library

The next time you visit your local library, ask where their genealogy collection is. Many libraries have a separate area set aside for genealogical materials. In this section, you will find items such as family histories, local histories, finding aids, transcriptions and more. Some libraries have an area set up for patrons to use the library’s subscription to genealogy websites such as Ancestry, Heritage Quest or News Bank.

If your library doesn’t have a genealogy collection, don’t give up. Some smaller libraries don’t have the space to have a special collection so their items may be scattered in various spots throughout the building. Check the card catalog using search terms genealogy or family history to locate them.

Don’t forget about inter-library loan. Most libraries participate in it. Check WorldCat for books that might be helpful. Then, stop by the main desk to fill out the form for inter-library loan. If there’s enough interest in a specific book, your library may even decide to purchase it for their own collection.

Grave Registration Sites

While grave registration sites are primarily there for recording burials, many also offer genealogical information as well. This may include links to other family members or contributor-submitted notes on the individual.

FindAGrave and Interment are just a couple of the grave registration sites you cna use for your genealogy research.

Volunteer Efforts

In an effort to expand the amount of genealogical information available for free, many people volunteer their time to transcribe and index records. This information is then posted on websites for anyone to view for free.

The USGenWeb Project and FamilySearch are the most well known volunteer-efforts. Records you can expect to find on these sites include vital records, cemetery transcriptions, newspapers, census records, draft registrations and more.

Even sites known primarily as subscription genealogy websites may offer free databases. Thanks for volunteers for Ancestry’s World Archives Project, there are over 400 databases available for free to the public. All you have to do is register with the site to gain access.

These are just a few of the many places you can find free genealogy resources. Learning about family history should be fun, not a financial burder.

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Genealogy: Data Storage Solutions for Your Research

Now that you have gathered the beginnings of your family tree, you have amassed a great deal of information. You are now encountering a new problem; how do you store your information?
You have two possible options. The most common is storage on a computer or CD/DVD, or/or a handwritten computer generated hard copy. Both methods and viable solutions will be discussed in this article.

Using a computer to research and record family data is the most commonly used application today. Research possibilities via the Internet have seen a rapid and explosive growth in the last few years. Use of the Internet as a research tool will be discussed in a future article.

Storing you family information on a computer or CD/DVD has been made relatively simple with the advent of genealogy software. There are many different programs on the market in all price ranges. There are also a few around on the net that can be downloaded for free.

Your local computer or home office center can help you choose a program to suit your needs and pocketbook. My personal favorite is “Family Tree Maker”, as they offer a variety of packages in suitable price ranges. This program is user friendly, entering data is easy and there are lots of options available for entering data specific to your family.

However, another option is to download a free program off the internet. If you choose to do this, be aware and don’t download a trial version of the program. This will only give you use of the program for a short time, and then if you want to keep it you must buy it. Otherwise all the data you entered will be lost in cyber oblivion.

I have downloaded “Personal Ancestral File” from the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (LDS) website. (www.familysearch.com) This program is easy to use. It is also superb for uploading or downloading gedcoms from family or other researchers (More on gedcoms in a future article)

No matter what type of program you choose to use, you will need some time to play around and get acquainted with the program before you actually start to enter your data. Most programs have tutorials or help pages and I advise you to make use of them. It will save you lots of time and cussing at the computer if you check this out first!

I also strongly advise you to back up all the data you enter into your program at least once a month, or more often if you are entering data on a heavy basis. I back my files both on my computer hard drive and on CD/DVD. This may seem like a pain, but after suffering a major computer crash and losing almost a year’s work I learned this lesson well. Now I have well over 16000 names in my database and I am very good about backing things up!

You need to also print a hard copy of your database. This is very handy for reference when you are not on the computer and also to take with you when you are visiting other researchers or out visiting sites such as records offices to gather information. Again, this is also a great backup if your computer fails and the dog eats the CD/DVD. You can print off new additions to the hard copy as soon as you have entered them, so this saves some time too.

For those of you who prefer pen to paper or fingers to typewriter keys, your first step is to visit your local stationer’s. This is the best place to find genealogy record sheets. There are a few different types available to you, and again this is a personal choice. Handwritten or typewritten, this may seem laborious, but think of the historical record you are creating. If your local shop doesn’t have the sheets, call your local genealogical society and they should be able to help you find them.

Most of these sheets are pretty straightforward. They are set up for one family unit, parents and the children and all the pertinent data. One per family unit and you are good to go. Again if there is any confusion about these sheets, there are often instructions included with the sheets or numerous sites online that can help you with this.

I hope this gets you a little deeper into your journey. Things may seem tedious at times, but the gains are will far outweigh the frustrations. In the next article, I shall begin looking into various research methods and the easy ways to get to where you want to go!

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Genealogy Record Sheets and Worksheets

Organizing your family research documents is one of the big challenges of genealogy for me. Family history becomes more rich and interesting when you can add documentation to your research notebook. The genealogical charts and family tree really come to life when you can leaf through pages of census records, church records, immigration records, land or property records, military records and other documentation.
The record sheets shown in the picture with this content are from Family Tree. You should be able to find similar record sheets that you can download and print at Genealogy Free Stuff. These worksheets help you not only find the information you need but also keep it organized. Some of the most common research worksheets you may want to use are:

Family Group Sheet

This sheet would list: the name of the husband, his birth date and place, his death date and where he is buried, the name of the wife, her birth date and place, her death date and where she is buried. There would be a listing of the marriage date and where the marriage took place. There would be spaces for the names of any children, the date and place the children were born, any deaths, and marriages of the children. The names of both the father and mother of both the husband and wife would be listed.

Church Records

The church record sheet may list: baptism and christening records, confirmation records, meeting minutes, membership records, and other pertinent information.

Search online search engines for such information as well as well know genealogy services.

Marriage Index

You may want to include a marriage index for your family. This record sheet would include: name of the groom, name of the bride, date, county and state where the marriage took place and any other pertinent information.

Military Records

Birth dates will help in completing this record sheet. You may keep a record of the military service of family members by searching for conflicts that occurred during their appropriate age group. Record the ancestor’s name, birth and death dates then search for any conflict you think they may have been involved in. You may find draft records, military service records, veteran records, or pension records.

Many military records are available through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at cost. There are several other resources for purchasing copies of military records such as www.fold3.com or through www.ancestry.com .

Vital Records

Most vital records are available for birth, death, divorce/annulment and marriage. Census records are available for most years.

Immigration Records

Look for passenger lists, passports, citizenship papers and alien registration cards. Many records are available online and copies may be ordered.

Court Records

You may be able to locate adoption records, civil records, coroner’s files, criminal records, estate records, licenses, name changes or wills.

Land and Property Records

You can find deeds, land grants, homestead records, maps and much more through online searches as well as at local offices.

Cemetery Records

It is useful for family history to record where family members have been buried. Keep a record of the name of the cemetery, location, inscription on the headstone, inscription on the footstone and any other pertinent information that may be helpful in finding the gravesites.

A large three ring binder can hold most of these records. Dividers are invaluable for keeping these records in order and easy to find. I have designated a binder for each family and kept copies of the documents in each of the binders.

Understanding Naturalization Records as Part of Genealogy

Genealogy is a favorite pastime of many American families and often gives us insight into who we are and what genetic composition we carry. For almost all families, the roots of our ancestry are found in the records of foreign countries and coming across blocks in research are not uncommon. If you are attempting to do your own family history, or genealogy, it is important to become familiar with the process of documenting and obtaining naturalization records for your family especially for families that immigrated from Mexico or Canada.
The process of naturalization simply means the person who resides in the that country becomes a citizen of the country of residency and for many genealogy research processes, the naturalization documents of your family members, when coming to the United States, will hold key bits of information into researching history in other countries.

When researching naturalization records for genealogy purposes, there are many pieces of documentation you will come across. To obtain the clearest picture about your ancestry, it is recommended that you review the documents entitled “declaration of intent” as this is the document that would have been first filed by your ancestors when they wanted to begin the process for U.S. naturalization. Within that initial document, the family member would have stated the country to which they are renouncing.

One disadvantage with naturalization documentation in the United States, in terms of genealogy, involves the lack of history prior to the late 1800’s. Because the United States did not require the documentation of immigrants until the late 1800’s, there are many family histories you will not be able to research if you need data from naturalization documents prior to these dates. However, if your family came into the United States after 1890, there may be naturalization documents that you can review to obtain a clearer picture on the heritage of your family.

While not all genealogy history can be obtained through naturalization papers, there are many key pieces of information you can find within them. When documenting all of your family history information, be sure to document the naturalization records and always look for pieces of information that would provide tips about your ancestry back to the late 1800’s. In doing so, you’ll be one step closer to accurately documenting your family history over the last two centuries. Prior to the 1800s, family records in individual counties and states would have to be analyzed to determine countries of family origin.

Sources: Genealogy Research 101, pp. 56-62.