Get started on your family tree with local and worldwide resources
“Know Thyself” Isn’t Just For Philosophy Majors
According to USA Today, genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States. Once an esoteric pastime for retirees and genealogy buffs, family history has become a mainstream interest for more and more Americans. Part of this recent trend can be attributed to the popularity of television shows such as Finding Your Roots and Genealogy Roadshow on PBS and Who Do You Think You Are? on TLC. At the same time, the commercial availability of inexpensive DNA testing kits like 23andMe and AncestryDNA have inspired a new generation of Americans to know more about their roots. Whatever the reason, there are now many resources available to you in helping you fill out your family tree- from online databases to the National Archives. A great way to get started, however, is to take advantage of what’s available to you at your local public library.
sign the pledge to vote for libraries
The Library Is Your Genealogy Home Base
It’s not exactly a well-kept secret, but many people still don’t know that many libraries have online subscriptions to Ancestry.com. The largest for-profit genealogy company in the world, Ancestry provides access to over 16 billion historical records, from which subscribers have produced more than 70 million family trees. Users have also uploaded their own content to Ancestry’s databases, comprising over 200 million individual documents, photos and personal anecdotes. Ancestry also has a collection of research aids assembled by expert genealogists covering such topics as how to get started, how to work with Census, Immigration and military records, and specialized advice on searching for African-American, Swedish, German and Native American ancestors.
Your local public library is also a virtual treasure trove of additional resources, from local, state and regional ancestry society publications to historic newspapers in print, microform and electronic editions. Many public libraries offer regular programs about genealogy, including “how-to” introductory classes and presentations from local historians and genealogy experts, as well as print and online research guides outlining basic genealogical methodology and introducing library users to resources available both in the library and on the internet. Also, your library may have a close relationship with your town’s historical society- in some places, the historical society is actually located within the library, either in the form of a reading room or a separate office in the same building!
Discovering National and Historic Genealogy Resources
Although Ancestry.com is the largest and most popular online genealogy resource, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the information and expertise offered by regional and national archives as well. For example, the New England Historical Genealogical Society owns and operates the website American Ancestors, which features free webinars on basic genealogical research as well as paid online courses on specific advanced topics in genealogy, such as researching Irish ancestors, verifying your Mayflower lineage and tracing female ancestors.
The National Archives also provides a wealth of research tools and guides on how to navigate their voluminous holdings, which include veterans’ service records and the 1940 Census, which has been scanned in full and is fully searchable online, as well as resources for educators and a regularly changing slate of online exhibits consisting of recently-digitized archival materials. The National Archives also manages History Hub, a support community for “researchers, citizen historians, archival professionals, and open government advocates” where people can post questions about researching their own family tree.
There’s No Time Like The Present to Learn About Your Past
Genealogy in America has come a long way, from people a hundred years ago looking for connections to nobility or royalty to modern genetic analysis that can tell us not only where we came from, but what traits and health conditions we have inherited from our predecessors. The good news is that it’s never been easier to get started with doing your own genealogical research, thanks to resources available at your nearest public library- not just an online subscription to Ancestry.com and access to town historical files and local newspapers, but the expertise of your local reference librarians as well. Begin your own adventure in getting to know your roots today!