Climb Your Family Tree at the Library

Your library is an excellent place to start a genealogy-discovery journey

Fgoldsmith
Feb 4 · 3 min read

You may want or even need to find out about your ancestors for all sorts of reasons. Curiosity that has led to a hobby motivates some family tree researchers. Others want to locate something about birth parents they never knew, track down relatives for medical information if facing a heritable disease diagnosis, confirm ethnic status for scholarship eligibility, or establish past nationality ties for emigration purposes. There is an enormous amount of data online — lots of it free. In fact, there is so much and so many of these ancestry questions are so surprisingly complex that a library and a librarian can be the best first stop on the road to your family tree climb.

Have you used the limited free access to Ancestry.com or another commercial database to get a start in your search? Your library may be one of the many institutional subscribers to the more robust versions — and more robust means more complete and thus more likely to answer your questions. And you can use it at the library, and get help with database navigation there, for free.

Many of the records in these commercial databases, however, are actually matters of public record, so you can ask for the library staff’s assistance in locating the specific agencies you could contact directly for vital records such as your grandfather’s death certificate (which will show the place as well as cause of death, birth information, and sometimes marital status). While many state agencies charge a small fee for copies of these records, you save time and the expense of handing fees over to commercial enterprises acting as middlemen.

Local libraries often include old city directories in their collections. These can be a boon to someone seeking not only the address but also the occupation of a birth parent whose identity they have just learned. If you are already over 60, chances of meeting that birth parent may be slim, but finding out that your birth mother was the daughter of a carpenter or went on to own a bakery can be satisfying.

Contemporary medicine relies on patients being able to share with their practitioners any information they have about family chronic disease and causes of death. Reaching out to second cousins and other more remote relatives to ascertain more complete health information about previous generations can be easier if you have the resources of the reference staff to guide your search. And, like medical staff, library workers maintain privacy and confidentiality so they won’t be gossiping about your family information needs.

Your library is also an excellent place to start researching scholarships and grants for which you or your children might be eligible. Did you know many such resources of funding are based on ethnic ties, tribal affiliations, and even descent from specific occupation and trade identities? Locating money can quickly lead you to ancestry questions.

So, too, can concerns about national and international ties. If you are frankly concerned, or even just curious, about whether moving abroad is possible for you, researching your ancestry can produce some pleasant surprises. Your local library may turn out to be your key for claiming Italian citizenship and thus altering your retirement plans completely!

Go climb your family tree. It’s right at your local library waiting for you to discover its branches.

Every story matters. Join the campaign to support America’s libraries today at facebook.com/everylibrary.
Fgoldsmith

Written by

EveryLibrary

Stories about libraries and librarians around America. We cover the breadth of experiences that people have through their libraries, and showcase the amazing people who work there.

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