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Visiting a Genealogical Library – How Hard Can This Be?

Sometimes we make things complicated for ourselves. Other times, things are already complicated. Let’s get a grip on going to a genealogical library and actually coming away with what we went in to find. Since there is so much information at a library of this type, while we can come away with lots of interesting information, we may also end up leaving without any of the information we went to find.

If you are going to a genealogical library (such as one of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints’ Family History Centers), you are in for a valuable research experience. These centers are free to the public and are located all over the nation and the world. They are comfortable and have helpful volunteers. Visiting a genealogical library in an area where you know your ancestors came from also gives you the opportunity to walk on the same ground they walked on. Make sure you call ahead for hours of operation and to speak to someone knowledgeable in advance of your visit.

Genealogical libraries (state, regional, local, specific, etc.) hold all kinds of information. On your first trip to any genealogical library, someone will ask you the most important question: “How may I help you?” If you are not prepared to specifically answer that question, you will be on a ride of information overload.

Contacting the library before your visit is very important. They will not do the research for you, but may know of someone in that area whom you can contact if you want professional assistance. You should have your questions prepared and know what specific information you are seeking. When you ask about that information, the librarian can usually identify sources in their library where the information can be found. Each library is different. Make sure the library has the resources available to meet your needs. If not, ask for a reference to another genealogic library that may have the resources you need.

What specific questions do you want answered? Are you looking for pieces of information you will need to support specific issues? Are you seeking documents to prove the date of birth or death of a specific ancestor? Are you looking for a specific proof of relationship to connect your ancestor to another ancestor (such as parent/child, or husband/wife)?

If your intent is to join a lineage society, such as the Mayflower Society, Colonial Dames, Daughters of the American Revolution, War of 1812 Society, or any of the other more than 900 lineage societies throughout the world, you will need proof that you are the child of a specific ancestor. This means you will be seeking birth, christening, marriage, death, obituary, cemetery records, wills, and probate information. If you seek to prove you belong to some specific land, you will need land deeds and records of sale.

Is there a time sensitive issue? Are you trying to put your records together to join a lineage group this year? What questions are most important to you? Looking in specific genealogical libraries may only solve some questions and other questions may be more readily answered via other local sources.

Look at what you already have. If you have some records that do not provide the information you are looking for, do not spend the research time looking for the same record. Find a different way to approach the answer. Ask the librarians for help brainstorming other documents to research for the information you are seeking.

Be dedicated to your specific questions and your specific research. Do not become distracted by other influences. If you are going to a genealogical library that is some distance from home, answer your questions first. Then, search further through the available ancestral information. It is too easy for you and the librarian to become distracted by too much information. You do not want to come away from the genealogical library without the information you intended to find.

Now, having sternly warned you about not becoming distracted, one thing should always be remembered: If a librarian offers information to you, such as specific books, a shelf or section of the library in which to look, or a section of the card catalogue to explore, look there. These librarians know more about what they have than they think they do. Look at it all. Serendipity may be at play. Miraculous things happen when you least expect it.

Treat the genealogical library with respect. Always obey the rules regarding making copies, scanning documents, making a snapshot on your phone, and touching their property. If they have a certain way they want their books or papers handled, respect that and do as you are instructed. Prioritize what the genealogical library has. If they have hard copies of books you need, copy them there, with their permission. If there are computerized records specific to only that genealogical library, use those records first.

Make copies of every record that you are seeking, along with the reference number where you can locate the information again. If information is in a book, copy the information you need, and copy the cover and title page of the book. If you make digital copies of information, keep a log somewhere to identify that record, where it was found, what specific information on that document relates to your search, and why.

I am a paper person. When I find information I am seeking, I make a hard copy as well as a digital copy. I use multi-colored Post-It notes, or “stickies.” I don’t worry about color coding the stickies by ancestor, but I know many who do. I write on the sticky who the information relates to, by name and by relationship. On a different sticky note, I identify why that information is important. I draw an arrow on the next sticky to point to the part of the page which contains the information I seek and where the information is physically located on the page.

In the heat of the quest, when you are totally immersed in finding your ancestor’s information, all of the documents you have found make perfect sense. You have located wonderful information, the librarians have helped you to understand why that information is important, what the information can show, and even helped you to read the information if it is in a foreign language. You are excited that you have found so much information. You may have even found additional information on your ancestors you never considered looking for. There is excitement in the air.

Then, you leave the library. You are excited, but you have spent the entire day at the library and you are hungry. You either stop at a restaurant on your way home or on the way back to the hotel. You relax. You may share some information with a travel companion or friends on the phone. Then you go to sleep. You may be going to an additional genealogical library on this trip, looking for other information. The next time you see the information you have found, it may not make as much sense as it did in the heat of the original find. That is why you take notes on stickies or keep a log of the research you have done.

The location of genealogical libraries can be found online in every city, state, region, and country. Lineage societies generally have their own libraries, which are open to the public, or they can refer you to someone who is familiar with the specific region or city where your ancestor lived.

Always visit your local libraries first. Find out what information and resources they have that answer your genealogy questions. Plan to visit a genealogical library this year! It’s a wonderful experience!

Bio: I am a Certified Genealogist and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe that the hobby of genealogy is fun, exciting, and very satisfying. Through researching genealogy, you may add skills, meet new friends, and gain new respect for those who have gone before you. You may reach me via email at ‘’ with questions or comments. I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and hope that you will too. Print your photographs of family. Label your photos with a first and last name, an approximate date, and a possible location if known. Please look for a new genealogy book from this author to be released in 2018.


By Marjory Regan

A brief bio of Marjory Regan: I am a member of the Williams Mills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a “Certified Genealogist’ Thank you for your questions, comments, problems and successes. Email me at I think genealogy is a fascinating hobby; I hope you will, too. Get Started. Do something small every day, it all add up. Label the photos! First & Last names and approximate date of the photo. Do it for an hour while watching TV.