Library Policies:

Genealogy and family history are concerned with tracing one's ancestors in order to compile a lineage, or "family tree". Genealogy is generally considered research, and therefore public libraries often have policies limiting the scope of services and time librarians will spend helping patrons directly with these types of questions. Genealogy can be an extremely time consuming process, but librarians can give references to good self-help guides, suggest logical approaches, help find local sources of help, and provide interlibrary loan services and referrals.

Self-Help Guides:

Three of the best self-help guides are George Everton's HANDY BOOK FOR GENEALOGISTS, Ethel Williams' KNOW YOUR ANCESTORS and Eakle's THE SOURCE. There are several others that can be helpful, too, and with the increasing popularity of genealogy, more are being published all the time. If you can, try to have at least one or two how-to-do-it guides available for your patrons to use.

Where To Start:

The starting point for each person's genealogy is family records and memories. When someone comes to you and is just starting work on genealogy, you should encourage the patron to begin by gathering as much from family records as possible. Many of the most important sources for tracing family history are arranged by geography and time period, so if your patrons can place their ancestors in certain locations at certain times, they will have a much easier time in their search.

Finding Compiled Family Histories:

Often people will ask you for a compiled genealogy of their family. Many of these are available, but finding a library that will lend them can be quite difficult. Unfortunately, this is often true of other kinds of genealogy material as well. One useful source for identifying published genealogies is GENEALOGIES IN THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: A BIBLIOGRAPHY. It lists family histories owned by the Library of Congress, but the Library of Congress itself does not lend them. You will need to find other libraries that own them and which may lend. A WorldCat search on OCLC is also a good place to start when trying to locate published family records and histories.

Using Local History To Help:

Another good approach is for people to read local histories of the places their family comes from since these are often filled with biographies of citizens. UNITED STATES LOCAL HISTORIES IN THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS can help identify these.

The Minnesota Historical Society:

One excellent source for genealogical material is the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. A catalog of their holdings is printed in GENEALOGICAL RESOURCES OF THE MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY: A GUIDE. Citations to books, maps, atlases, census data, photographs, newspaper holdings and other materials owned by the Historical Society Library can also be accessed through the PALS online system. The Historical Society participates on a limited basis in interlibrary loan, but the public is welcome to use materials in the library between 8:30am and 8:30pm on Monday, or from 8:30am to 5:00pm Tuesday through Saturday.

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This page was updated December 6, 2003.