Every library has the basic tools needed by patrons who are searching for their roots, but librarians may not realize the extent of their online and print resources. Cynthia O’Neil, Certified Genealogist, Board for Certification of Genealogists and genealogy expert at the Manchester (NH) City Library, leads you through the process of assisting genealogists, as new technology and tight budgets encourage genealogists and librarians to work together.
There has been a divide between librarians and genealogists.
Genealogists think: everyone who works in a library is a “librarian” and needs to answer questions
Librarians think: everyone asking genealogy questions will be happy with the resources we can provide
Genealogists span from simply the curious to amateurs to professions who have their own research styles, favorite tools, and want to do their own work. A new group of genealogists are family members doing this work to find family medical histories and family DNA.
Amateur give the professionals a bad name – examples of amateur questions:
- Where is the book on my family?
- Can you do my family tree?
Librarians help find information, not do their work.
The best genealogists want original records or primary sources, which often are not in libraries. They are in City Clerks office or Archives, but vary by state and county, which makes it difficult for visiting genealogists to understand. Secondary source are usually not what genealogists want.
Problems between librarians and genealogists:
- The reference interview can be difficult for genealogists, because it is very personal information and they don’t want to hear that information may not be available
- Library resources are usually secondary sources, copies, or gifts (which leads to an uneven or “worn” collection)
- Families move away, so libraries might not have information
- Genealogists often think that everything about a townsperson is available somewhere in that town
- Genealogy is usually not the main focus (or skill set) of a public library
Resources libraries already have that are of use to genealogists:
- City directories
- maps (USGS, town, etc)
- published local histories (even of surrounding towns)
- how-to books on genealogy
- town annual reports and vital records
- cemetery records
- the World Almanac (contains a timeline of history and a perpetual calendar to find past days/dates)
- know who to contact to find church records
The handout was a bibliography of suggested core collection for libraries in New England:
- Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research 4th ed., Historical Genealogical Society – extremely complete with contributors (professionals and organizations) from all NE states
- Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy – informative and includes information on how to read wills for information
- New England Court Records: A Researchers Guide for Genealogists and Historians – unique and complete information on court and court records, and how to find the information throughout history
- Unpuzzling Your Past – an engaging how-to book, perfect for high school age kids, and includes lots of information on finding information from your family and how to organize the information
- The Source – a handbook everyone should use, and covers a wide variety of information and sources
- Shaking Your Family Tree – and informal approach to interviewing family members and using library resources; also includes pointers and pitfalls
- Digging for Genealogical Treasure in New England Town Records – interesting and humorous; only source that includes registered cattle marks
- Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian – author considered the authority on genealogical writing (also has additional more advanced books for larger collections)
- What Did they Mean By That? and A to Zax – both very good to explain historical terms
- Ancestry.com – favorite of the presentor
- Heritage Quest – similar to Ancestry (not as complete), but has remote access
- New England Ancestors – (does have some access issues that are being worked on
- FamilySearch (LDS Website) – free and often revised
- Check for your state or town’s historical society’s website
- [many more listed, will add asap]
How to help Genealogists
- Encourage them to call before coming so you can be ready
- Help them find information outside of the library
- Ask them to tell us what they can’t find, so we know what resources to look for
- Give out-of-towners local history information in addition to genealogical information, to help give them context (since New England history goes further back than other areas of the country
Question & Answer period
Q:What kind of information do you get out of land grants?
Where people lived, especially during certain time frames, see how land was passed through family members, learn how land was used.
Q: Do you have patrons come in and say donated information is wrong? Is it our responsibility to correct it?
Leave it the way it is, but include a note (with patron contact info) to notify subsequent users. The printed information came from somewhere, but no record is perfect.
Q: Boston University is starting an extension program for genealogy – should history-reluctant staff be sent for training, or just have one person on staff who is the expert?
Many staff are afraid of genealogy questions, and no amount of training will change that. Some find they unexpectedly enjoy it, so encourage them to try. If they are covering the expert’s lunch, they can at least pass out their business card.