18 March 2019

The Genealogist’s Best Friend

As true today as when I wrote it 3 years ago, with updates.

If you’re just getting into family history it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Google “genealogy” and find well over 100 200 million hits. Where to start? One good place is your local library. Larger libraries often have one or more genealogy specialists. Yours may offer a free one-hour one-on-one consultation to help you start off on the right foot and focus your research. The resources available will depend on your ancestry. The librarians will be able to direct you to the most promising sources once they understand your particular needs.

If you’re moving beyond the beginner stage but still learning—a happy place to be—you may seek advice from someone you met through Facebook or another social network, a fellow member of your local family history society, or a volunteer at a nearby family history centre. Keep an eye out for educational opportunities being offered as webinars as well as in-person talks offered by a local society or your public library. These delve more deeply into specialized topics such as genetic genealogy, military records or Jewish ancestry.

As you explore your family history in depth, beyond names and dates to your ancestor’s life and times, you’ll find libraries and librarians coming to the fore again.

Database resources are given ever more profile by libraries. Through library access to a collection of British newspapers online I have found a great-grandfather, a Church of England minister, being fined for keeping a dog without a licence. Another relative was convicted for purloining money from the bank where he worked, a third fined for selling fake patent medicine. A distant relative exhibited a contraption at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London to forecast the weather based on jumping fleas. Look hard enough, if you dare, and you’re bound to find interesting stories in your ancestry!

The National Library of Australia’s magnificent Trove collection of digitized newspapers became the source for finding out about my father’s return from being a German prisoner of war in the Pacific in 1940. The Chronicling America digitized newspaper collection, made available through the Library of Congress, provided insight on the life of my relative who left England to join the US Army, serving in Texas. Both Trove and Chronicling America can be searched through the MyHeritage newspaper collection.

You’ll also want to consult maps. Many libraries have local collections. Online, the National Library of Scotland website <maps.nls.uk/> offers free high-resolution zoomable images of over 160,000 200,000 maps of Scotland, England and Wales. For locations further afield, consult the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection <www.davidrumsey.com/>.

In word association tests library and book go together. Books, an essential resource for understanding historical context, remain the major component of today’s broad range of library services. Think about appropriate subject terms for a search in your local public library catalogue; it’s probably online, as are those for major specialist, university and national libraries.
WorldCat <www.worldcat.org/> brings together many of those catalogues. If you find a publication of interest not in their collection, your local library may be able to obtain it through Interlibrary Loan. 

WorldCat provides links to many out of copyright digitized publications with free access through services such as the Internet Archive <archive.org/> and Google Books <books.google.com/>. Not to be overlooked are specialist libraries, such as the Wellcome Library <wellcomelibrary.org/>, one of the world's major resources for the study of medical history.

Libraries and librarians are about connecting people to the information they need and educating them about finding that information. That’s why they’re known as the genealogist’s best friends. Are you taking advantage of the free in-person and virtual services librarians and libraries have to offer?


Gail B said...

Thank you for always promoting libraries and their resources.

Retired librarian and archivist,

Gail B in St. C.

judylynne said...

As we struggle to make our Council members understand the value of libraries and librarians (none of them use libraries), it is wonderful to have an article like this to post for people to see.
On the other hand, given the somewhat larcenous ancestors that you are uncovering, should we really be trusting you?!!
Thank you for all that you do for genealogists, archivists, and just plain lovers of democracy and information everywhere!