Catch up on the latest in family history with these articles from GenealogyBank News
January 2024 Newsletter
Past Issue Archive
Select the month and year below
Get online search tips, exclusive offers and other helpful information to aid your genealogy research.
Genealogy Tips: Researching at a Genealogy Library
Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega explains why – even in this age of digitized records – it is helpful to visit a genealogy library, and gives tips to make the most of your time there. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Have you researched at one of the large genealogy libraries? The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a bucket list trip for many genealogists – but there are other libraries you should consider, including:
- Midwest Genealogy Center (Independence, Missouri)
- Family History Research Center at the Clayton Library (Houston, Texas)
- The Genealogy Center, Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
- Godfrey Memorial Library (Middletown, Connecticut)
With so many records online, why spend the time and money to travel to a library? The short answer is: it can help you find the information you have been looking for to finally answer that ancestor question.
I know it can seem like everything you need for your research is online, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Libraries offer resources that are not digitized and may never be digitized. This can include maps, archival materials, rare books, audio and video recordings, and microforms.
On a recent trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center, Library Manager Katie Smith told me about their collection that includes family Bibles, yearbooks, and oral histories. (Special thanks to Katie Smith and the librarians and staff at the Midwest Genealogy Center who took the time to answer my questions.) This was in addition to their books, collection of 100+ periodicals, maps, microfilm, and subscription databases.
While the library is physically located in Jackson County, Missouri, their collections are worldwide. I’ve found this true of similar libraries such as The Genealogy Center and the Clayton Library. These libraries, no matter where they are located, have something for everyone.
Another thing about genealogy libraries: they are not only interested in helping people document their past, but also helping them document the present for future generations. At the Midwest Genealogy Center, the “Tell Me a Story” pod allows two participants to interview and record an oral history. Interview audio files are archived by the library and become part of their collection. Family members can interview each other about everything from their childhood, military service, or what they know about their ancestors. It’s a great opportunity to leave something for descendants. The Family History Library offers something similar by providing rooms that can be used for recording interviews.
Why take the time, money, and effort to travel to a genealogy library? I think Midwest Genealogy Center Library Manager Katie Smith said it best when she remarked that the staff was the library’s greatest strength. Librarians and staff who work at a genealogy library love genealogy. They are well-versed in various types of research, and they know their collections. Yes, you can do your research from the comfort of home, but we all find ourselves faced with the inevitable brick wall. A genealogy librarian can help you break down those barriers.
Not only do librarians know resources and records; they specialize in how to find information. As I was researching at the Midwest Genealogy Center, I overheard a librarian helping a patron by explaining why you need to search the FamilySearch Catalog and not just the Historical Records collection. It’s easy to use a website but we all benefit from the expertise of someone who knows how to find information.
Start Online before You Go
Yes, I am encouraging you to travel to a library – but before you do, start online. Exhaust the online catalog and website before you go so that you can make the most of your trip.
I always set some goals for my research and search the catalog for records and resources before I leave home. Because research doesn’t always go the way we want or expect it to, I also plan on researching several families or projects. That way, if I don’t find what I’m looking for I can switch gears and research a different family.
The other thing I do when I first arrive is to sit down and use a library computer. Why? Larger libraries offer various subscription databases that you may not have access to at home. Bring a flash drive and download what you need from these websites before you take a look at books or microfilm.
Plan Your Trip Now!
I know it may not seem like a visit to a genealogy library is necessary in today’s world of digitized collections, but it’s important to remember that not everything is digitized. Research in a library or archive is a vital part of learning more about your ancestor. During a trip to the Clayton Library in Houston, I found a record on microfilm that I had not found in my 20+ years of researching that family, even though I had previously researched in the city and county they lived in. But it was at the Clayton Library that I discovered an answer to a research question that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
A genealogy library is a great place to research to find your family history answers. Plan a future trip now.
Explore over 330 years of newspapers and historical records in GenealogyBank. Discover your family story! Start a 7-Day Free Trial
Note on the header image: the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.