Using Libraries in Genealogy

Libraries are very helpful resources for researching your family tree. Not every library is fortunate to have what my library calls a Special Collections department where local history and genealogy books are located. But if you are fortunate to have this resource available to you, you would be wise to use it.


During a “normal” year (a.k.a. one before Covid-19 hit), my local library would have a variety of classes spread out throughout the year, normally once a month, highlighting basic classes like: Getting Started on your Family Tree, Vital Records, Using the Census, immigration (breaking it down into 3 classes – before 1820, 1820-1890, and more or less modern day); photography (the different types or history of photographs, clues to identify time period); and how to use – Ancestry, FamilySearch, Heritage Quest, Fold3, Find My Past (the Ancestry one in particular is often repeated because it’s a great introductory class).

They also offer programs from area experts, like archivists where they tell you how they can assist in your search as well as preservation techniques, curators from the historical society where they explained that even if they don’t have information on your specific ancestor they can help you with how your family lived.


I am also lucky that my library (the Akron-Summit County Library) also gets nationally recognized experts to come in and speak. For example, this past Saturday (January 16) Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, spoke via Zoom on Identifying Family Photographs. Past speakers have been Dani Shapiro (author), Judy Russell, CeCe Moore, John Phillip Colletta, and James Beidler, to name a few.

Here is my autographed book by Dani Shapiro in reference to her own DNA journey when she spoke at my local library.

Even though they may not pertain directly to your research, speakers give you something to think about on a grander scale.

The Librarians

The best part of Special Collection departments are that they have the very best librarians, in other words, they are so incredibly helpful! They have this very calm way of asking you questions and helping you figure out what your next step should be when you are stuck (I really should be at the library every day for at least 8 hours).

Free Access to Online Databases

Most libraries will have access to genealogical programs such as Ancestry, FamilySearch (yes, you can get it free at home but sometimes if your library is an affiliate you will have access to even more collections you may not be available to use at your house), Find My Past, MyHeritage, Fold3, American Ancestors, and I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting. Some you are able to access at any library, others you can only access at the main library.

Presently some of the databases such as Ancestry, Fold3 and MyHeritage are available to you at home as long as you have a library card since we are suppose to be practicing social distancing. I believe most of these are presently ongoing through the end of May and at that point will be re-evaluated.


Last, but certainly not least, there are a variety of books available in the library to help you with your research. As my library is located in Akron, Ohio they have a quite a collection on Summit County and Akron as well as Ohio in general. But they also have a variety of books from Pennsylvania (a large branch of it) as well as from the northeast region of the United States and the south.

Periodicals are aplenty as they have magazines that can assist you with how you go about your research. They also have city directories (up until 1969 have been digitized and are located on the website), maps, and participate in interlibrary loans if they don’t have the book you seek.

These are my books but they are ones you would most likely find in the Special Collections area of a library.

When You Hit Your Next Roadblock…

Make sure that you head to your library to see what information that they can provide, especially if your family lived in the area where you presently live. If your library is a bit smaller and does not have some of the above features, see if another library close by does (I realized when looking around at the other larger area libraries they all seemed to have a genealogical presence but it does not appear to have the resources my library system has).

Lastly, my library does have a way to get a library card online, so you could use what they have available even if they aren’t in your neck of the woods. You never know what you might find checking out other libraries, you may find one where your ancestors are from that would work with your local library on an interlibrary loan that could be a key to your research. Or you may find out your library has more than you thought!

Happy searching!

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