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Guide 2 Genealogy   >   Sources   >   Libraries

 

Using Libraries in Genealogical Research


A lot of of genealogical materials can be found in books, genealogical magazines, local histories, genealogical and historical society publications, and in publications by non-genealogical organizations, clubs, and even schools.

The first places to start looking for these types of information are your local library and the library in the area where your family lived. Generally speaking, even the smallest libraries have copies of town newspapers and local histories. Additionally, many libraries and library systems have their catalogs available online which you can search their holdings from your computer. However, you should be aware that the catalog may be limited and not yet list the library's entire holdings online. Many states have a state library system and a state historical library, and even the smallest libraries within each state may have genealogical collections which are indexed on the state library system.

Most libraries use the "Interlibrary Loan System" In this system, to which university, public, and private libraries belong, it is possible to borrow books from libraries across the country, with a waiting period to receive books of usually only a week or two. If your local library is not a member of the Interlibrary Loan System, you always have the option of visiting other libraries with genealogical collections.

When you visit each library, you can view books on the county and local area as well as histories on local churches, schools, and organizations. If a visit is not possible, you can try contacting librarians by mail, telephone, or email.

When contacting librarians, you should always be reasonable and limited in your demands on their time. A letter that begins with "Would you please send me everything you have on the following individual and family" is asking far too much and will probably go unanswered. However, if you were to instead request information about any books concerning the family in question, that may prove far more fruitful. In your request, you can also suggest that the librarian pass on your questions to the local historical or genealogical society if the library staff is unable to perform the research for you. If your request is not acknowledged, you can always write directly to the local genealogical and historical society.

The Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is the largest genealogical library in the world. It also makes its collection available through 3,200 Family History Centers across the U.S. and around the world. For more than one hundred years, the church has sent missionaries to gather genealogical records throughout the world and spends millions every year microfilming records on site. With its extensive genealogical studies, there is a very good chance that the records of your relatives, whether or not they follow the Mormon faith, are contained within this massive library. A vast part of The Family History Library's collection is on microfilm that may be lent to patrons for a small fee.

Another important source of information is the Library of Congress. Although you have to actually go to the Library of Congress to use its collection, the effort is worthwhile for serious genealogists. It has one of the world's best collections of genealogy information (both national and international) and an extensive local history collection.

Finally, dozens of libraries are famous for their genealogical collections. These include the New York Public Library, the Los Angeles Public Library, and the National Library of Canada. Smaller libraries, too, often concentrate on genealogical topics. Be particularly on the look out for libraries contained within museums or belonging to local historical and genealogical societies.


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