Free ancestry records are often right in our own backyards, hidden away in our local public library. There are often unique genealogical resources hidden in these public institutions, and it’s well worth taking the time to unearth them. Libraries can especially be useful when seeking free ancestry records that relate to your particular local area. They often contain data that can’t be found anywhere else, even on the Internet, so it’s well worth a trip to check out their free ancestry records.
Though you may have no idea of what book or other resource you’ll need to find information on your ancestor, it is important to know exactly which relative you’re going to search. Bring any relevant information you already have on them with you, as what you already have may lead you to other resources. Think about the types of questions you need answers to, write them down and take them with you. Although most librarians are not expert genealogists (though some in larger institutions are); they may be able to help you with your ancestor search if they know what kind of information you seek. Don’t be afraid to ask, I’ve found librarians to be very helpful when searching for free ancestry records.Try Ancestry.com and get 14 Days FREE!
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Formulate the right questions so that you get the exact answers that you’re looking for. If you ask a librarian if they can help you to find your uncle Bob, you’ll probably get a blank stare. If you ask them where you can find a birth index for your town dated 1886, they’ll be more likely able to help you.
Each library has its own unique collection, especially regarding local information. But the free ancestry records you’ll find there are databases and documents that are otherwise inaccessible. For instance, many libraries partner with other organizations, which make them part of a huge information network. Newspaper databases for example, can be very expensive for an individual to purchase access to, but at your library you can browse them for free. You may also find that your library partners with a local genealogical society, sometimes they meet in the library itself. Networking with other genealogists during your ancestor search can expose you to many free ancestry records you may not have even known about.
Some of the other benefits of researching your family history in libraries are that you can help yourself to Land Ownership Maps, Obituary indexes, City Directories, and unique library know-how.
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Searching your free family ancestry in a library is made much easier by familiarizing yourself with its online catalogue. Whatever you do, don’t enter the word "genealogy" in the search engine of a library’s online catalogue. This may sound like a contradiction, being you’re searching for free ancestry records, but using that term will either return a million results, or overlook things that are important because they’re not catalogued under "genealogy". A good example might be obituaries. Quite often these will not be filed under a genealogy section, so use specific terms like "birth records" or "census reports" to ensure you find the exact free ancestry records you seek.
It’s important to note that the people who catalogue a library’s resources aren’t at liberty to index items for a genealogist’s convenience. They must use terms set to an international standard, thus death certificates for instance, may not even have the terms death or certificate attached to them. Though research librarians try their best to translate the catalogue information to make sense to the genealogical researcher, they too are held to the same international standards. The best thing to do is to contact the research librarian and have a chat, they’ll be more than happy to help you to find those illusive free ancestry records in their catalogue.
One bit of helpful advice I got from a librarian is that; if you happen to stumble across exactly what you’re looking for, take a note of the subheadings – they are the search terms that were used to index the record. These are usually displayed as hot-links, and clicking on them will take you to similar free ancestry records.
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