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Beginning Genealogy Lessons
by Don B. Dale

Lessons To Help You Get Started & Sometimes To Keep Going

Lesson 3: Library/Archives Research

Lesson 3 is courtesy of Jean R. Legried, copyright 1996. Her work is available at: www.rootsweb.com/~newbie. Used with permission. Note: Lessons with"added notes" italicized are added "Net Notes" (N2)by DB Dale.

Library and archival materials are secondary resources and should be  used for clues and background. The genealogy section in a library catalogued  under the Dewey Decimal System can be found listed as 929 and 929R (reference).

        There are many types of libraries that can be helpful in your research. Some of these will have their catalogue on-line so that you can search for specific title. The contents of the books are not yet on-line, however. Many libraries and archives won't loan their genealogy books on inter-library loan because of the demand for the title, so that means you will probably have to make a trip to the library to view the book.

An alternate route would be to have the holding library copy the index and/or table of contents of the book and then you can tell if the book really contains the information that you want and you can order copies of specific pages. You could also check at a Family History Library to see if the book has been microfilmed. There are also specialized library/businesses that loan books through the mail.


  • 1) Public Library
    • a. Local * where you live
    • b. Large city * Such a library will often have special genealogy section/room.
    • c. Near ancestor's home *Library will have material specific to your area of interest.
  • 2) Historical library
    • a. Local * where you live
    • b. State * where you live
    • c. Ancestor's home or state * I think that too often these historical and genealogical society libraries are overlooked. They can contain material that can be found nowhere else.Added by DBD - Marion Indiana Library has the "Indiana Room"; Xenia Ohio Community Library has the "Greene Room"; Antioch College has "Antochiana". Remember to check the local area college for its archive files.
  • 3) College/University library * These libraries are especially good for ethnic research or they might contain a special collection of another type, such as maps or a collection of local history. I am most familiar with:
    • St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN that has a Norwegian collection;
    • Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN that has a Swedish collection; and
    • St. Thomas College, St. Paul, MN that has an Irish collection, but there are others throughout the USA (and Europe).
    (Added- the Swen Library at College of William and Mary has a great early American collection and there are other special libraries such as:
    • The Bishop Quayle Bible Collection at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas;
    • The Spencer Library Special Collection at the University of Kansas in Lawrence (largest of its kind)-DBD; and there's
    • The Walterstat Library/Swedish Bible collection at Bethany College in Linnsburg, Kansas.
  • 4) Genealogical libraries:
    • a.   Family History Library -- Salt Lake City and your local FHC. (added-DBD- also highly recommended, it's where I learned my German ancestors came from Russia)
    • b. Ohio Historical Society-Archives Library, 1985 Velma Ave, Columbus, Ohio  43211
    • c. National Genealogy Society Library in London, England; three floors of really old records-fabulous way to spend a week - they are not computerized)
    • d. Morton Grove Library in IL. (Added - DBD)
  • 5) Special collections
    • a.   Library of Congress
    • National Archives @ 24000 Avila Rd, Laguna Niguel, CA 92656. (Added- If you live in Southern California, it's a well kept secret - DBD)
    • c.   Newberry Library, Chicago
    • d.   Allen County Public Library Foundation, P.O.Box 2270, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-227  They charge for each letter plus page copied.  * This library's genealogy section is second only to the Family History Library. (dbd)
  • 6) Out-of-print book dealers (See Lesson 7)  a. Higginson Book Co *old books reprinted, especially genealogies, on demand
  • 7) Borrow books by mail a. Hoenstine's   * This library specializes in Pennsylvania books

ORGANIZE your material and know what you want to find BEFORE you  go to the library. If you have the program "The Master Genealogist" there is, at least in the Gold edition, a reference section where you can make notes as you work. Not to push a program, but the idea, keep a file folder by name with the various items you want to check, i.e. military, census check, etc. (dbd)

KNOW how to USE a library. Know which numbering system (Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress) the library uses and acquaint yourself with the numbers of the types of books you will want to use. In some large libraries you may not be able to go into the stacks. You will have to fill out a request form and wait patiently (!) until the book is brought to you.

Many genealogy books are old and fragile and you won't be allowed to put them on the copy machine. Therefore, you need to know how to take complete notes. Documenting ALL of your research is very important. A helpful book is Site Your Sources by Richard S. Lackey (New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1980). This book is available from many genealogy book dealers.


  • a. Maps and Atlases (See Lesson 14 on Maps)
  • b. Gazetteers  * A geographical dictionary - contains names of people.
  • c. Local histories * Volumes contain biographies, business information, schools, churches, etc. Generally county printed and tough to find. Maries County Missouri has a 2 volume history, all copies were sold or pre-sold; someone had two copies and sold me one. 
  • d. Compiled lists * such as: Mayflower descendants, Wars: Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers, ship passenger lists, etc.
  • e. Biographical lists  * such as: Who's Who volumes
  • f. Published genealogies
  • g. Published genealogy magagines and periodicals (dbd)- Here I refer you to the growth in On-line Resources: This is fast becoming the quickest and easiest research tool: USIGS has the by-weekly SIGNAL. For a list, go to the Source List for Genealogy Research
  • h. Newsletters published by genealogical and historical societies * Those published by the local and state societies, plus those from the Natl Genealogical Society and the New England History and Genealogical Soc.
  • i. Newspapers * Directories of newspapers are available. Many newspapers have been microfilmed and often are available on inter-library loan. Local societies and individuals are undertaking projects of indexing newspapers for obituaries, births, marriages, anniversaries, probates.
  • j. Genealogy columns in newspapers * These aren't as common but, if one is printed in your research area, they can be a great source  
  • k. City directories * Helpful in tracking a person during the between census years
  • l. Telephone directories  
  • m. Postal directories  
  • n. Genealogy how-to-do-it books, e.g.; Powells Genealogy books & Park Genealogical Books
  • o. Biographies    * These will often be found under .016.9R.
    Two sources are; The Internet Genealogical Bookshop, Stuart Raymond, Genealogical Bibliographer:  samjraymond@btopenworld.com
    FILBY, P.W. American and British Genealogy and heraldry: a selected list of books, 3rd ed published by New England Historic Genealogy Society in 1983.
  • p. Look for old Cyclopedias in the 1800s, some of these have detailed annotated bibliographies of individuals of that time. (dbd)

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Originally posted: 08-May-97. Updated: 15 August 2005.