7 Tips for Genealogists from the Library
Being curious about our family or hometown history is natural for humans. What’s great is that oftentimes there are plenty of resources out there just waiting to be discovered and incorporated into our research. Those who are just getting started may be uncertain about where to begin looking for information and have endless questions on the process of genealogy research. There’s plenty of practical advice that can help you take your first steps into the world of genealogy and public libraries, special collections, and research libraries will be the best places to guide you with your genealogical inquiries.
#1 — Do Your Pre-Research
Knowing what you are interested in finding will make your research process a lot easier than if you are going in without any ideas. This may have to start with family member interviews in order to get your questions figured out. After you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, make lists of each detail you plan to research. For example, you could create a list of important names, dates, relationships, or places of interest. Keeping track of pertinent information will help guide you in your process of researching.
In addition, use specific research questions to keep from being overwhelmed. With extensive family backgrounds to look through, it can be difficult to stay on track. Focusing the scope of your research by using specific questions can be a helpful guide.
#2 — Reference “Getting Started” Guides
Many local libraries and government archives across the world understand the interest in genealogy research. This is why many have guides in place to help beginners find what they’re looking for. The National Archives has multiple guides covering records research, charts, and additional genealogy resources. There are even introductory tutorial videos and family history workshops for those who are new to genealogy research.
#3 — Utilize Online Databases
Online databases are the way to go especially for those focused on web only research. Many library sites have a specific tab to access the library’s online databases. At the Kenton County Public Library, for example, this is located under the “Genealogy” tab nested under the “For Everyone” page on the website. This allows library patrons to see the full listing of databases with everything from genealogy resources to newspaper databases. These library databases can also give you subscription access to sites like Ancestry without having to pay out of pocket.
#4 — Check Out Other Library Sections
Genealogy sections aren’t the only places in the library with valuable information. Other departments can also end up being useful places to search especially if you’re looking for specific materials. Microform collections are one example of a useful place to look. At the Library of Congress, for example, their microform collections have extensive telephone and city directories. Newspaper archives are also another example of useful materials to search through.
#5 — Organize Your Materials
Have designated note taking materials and specific places to store what you find. This might be in a specially named folder on your desktop or online in a cloud or even an email thread. You can figure out the method that works best for you whether that be typing it out or recording a video or voice memo. Additionally, make sure to save copies of all the records you find and compile them into the same folder as other relevant notes.
#6 — Ask for Help
Librarians and archivists are the best at what they do for a reason. They’re familiar with collections and navigating the online space making them the best resource for materials referrals. Library websites have great communication tools in place. Email could be your preferred method if you have extensive questions to ask. These can put you in direct contact with different librarians available like the reference librarian or the digital librarian. Chat tools are also perfect for communicating with librarians from the comfort of your home. These are usually available during library hours and give you quick access to an expert researcher. Some libraries even have a texting option.
#7 — Offer to Share Your Research
Genealogy research takes time and hard work. When going through your research, you’ll usually have compiled information and photocopies of records. One of the best ways to help a library and future beginner genealogists out is to donate your materials. Sharing the conclusions you’ve discovered can make filling in the puzzle easier for the next researcher and genealogical libraries are usually happy to accept the help.
Getting into genealogy research is a growing interest with many people. While it can seem intimidating to dig through the wealth of information that’s out there, easing into the process can be made less scary if you prepare well and utilize library resources to help you get started.