Libraries and Societies
A stop at the public library of the community where your ancestor lived is a must for any family historian. Libraries are a gateway to rich primary source materials on the history and culture of the region they serve, as well as the people who lived in the area. The library is usually the local repository for archived newspapers, city directories, school yearbooks, and other resources specific to the community. Many larger libraries also maintain a local history section, with family histories, community and local history books, photographs, and records such as census enumerations, cemetery transcriptions, and marriage indexes.
Use the Internet as a tool to find libraries that serve the locations where your ancestors lived, or that host records or special collections that match your research interests.
Online, a library visit means an excursion to the library's website. Many libraries offer unique online content in the form of digitized original records, or transcribed indexes or databases. The University of Pittsburgh library (
Even libraries that don't have online records can be helpful in your research. Most library websites make at least a portion of their catalog available for searching online. Look for a link from the site's home page. You may also find information on submitting lookup or research requests. Many librarians are willing to do brief lookups in indexed books, databases, and clipping files, or provide a copy of an obituary if you can provide a name and date. In some cases this service may cost you a few dollars to cover expenses and postage, but it is well worth it. More and more librarians are also offering online “Ask a Librarian” assistance, either through e-mail or chat.
University and college libraries are sometimes overlooked by genealogists, but they often hold unique historical resources. They can have many unpublished genealogies and histories in their manuscript division, as well as the records of churches and businesses.
The interlibrary loan (ILL) service at your local library can be a goldmine for genealogists interested in materials held by libraries far from their home. While few libraries will lend noncirculating genealogical materials, you can often use an ILL request to borrow copies of microfilmed records, or to ask that they make copies of the index for your ancestors' surnames or a few relevant pages from a book or newspaper.
One tool used by many genealogists to locate library resources is World-Cat, a catalog of materials held in more than 10,000 libraries worldwide, including public, academic, and state libraries; archives; and historical societies. This includes special collections devoted to local history, which means you may find citations for historical newspapers, oral histories, family histories, cemetery records, historical photographs, family bibles, town or county histories, and a wide variety of other materials. In 2006, WorldCat also opened a free Internet search portal to the public (