Ten Most Frequently Asked Genealogy Questions


These are the most frequently asked genealogy questions that librarians ask and that the public asks librarians.

1. Is there a List Serve for genealogy librarians?

Yes, there is an excellent and very active list serve available to librarians, archivists, professional genealogists, and authors of genealogy books. It is called Librarians Serving Genealogists. Go to http://www.cas.usf.edu/lis/genealib/ to subscribe. This service has information on Collection Development and Preservation; Information Literacy; Professional Development and Education; and Reference and Referral Services.

      2. Do you have census records for all the states?

There are online images of the U.S. Federal, population census for all the states on Ancestry.com from 1790 to 1930 (the 1890 census burned and only a few counties survived). Some images are available on HeritageQuestOnline (see “Ten Suggested Websites” for more details and the web addresses.) These are commercial databases for which your library has to subscribe. Go to the archived posting for the list serve, Librarians Serving Genealogists, for good reviews on these two commercial databases. At this time, you need a subscription to both databases to have full indexing by name, as they index different years. Microfilms for the Federal Census are available for loan from the National Archives. There are free census images for some counties on www.USGenWeb.com.

3. How can I find a book about my family?

FirstSearch and RLIN have huge bibliographic databases that genealogists love. These databases provide them with information on most genealogy material in libraries across the country and some foreign libraries. This material can possibly be borrowed for your patrons through Interlibrary Loan. Access to manuscripts, newspapers, and periodicals is also available through these databases.

4. My grandfather said that I have Cherokee blood. How can I find out?

A keyword search on FirstSearch using the terms “Cherokee genealogy” will give you a very long and useful list of books on the subject. This list includes several good how-to books for doing Native American genealogy.  A good place to start your research is with the U.S. Federal population census, then check the Indian tribal rolls, and special Indian censuses. The government took a special census on reservations from 1885 to 1940. These records are available on microfilm from the National Archives. A few large academic and public libraries have the films and may loan them. Look also on the Dawes Rolls, which is a listing of Cherokee, Chactaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole Nations of Oklahoma, enrolled during 1899-1906. This roll shows degree of Indian blood and is used to prove eligibility of entitlements, i.e., grants for education. Also check the Miller, Drennen, Old Settler, and the Chapman rolls, as well as others. These Indian rolls are listings of Cherokee people going back to the mid to early 1800s. This will give your patron a good start. Cyndi’s List also has some good links to Cherokee genealogical research.

5. How do I use Fremont Rider’s American Genealogical-Biographical Index?

This is a 200+ volume set which is now available on Ancestry.com (This is a subscription database. Subscribe yourself or ask Janna and Daniela to look something up for you.). This index gives information on thousands of individuals that may not be indexed anywhere else. The database gives the full bibliographic information about the publication cited for the person you have looked up; the researcher can then request the material through Interlibrary Loan. One of the most useful resources in the AGBI is the Boston Transcript Genealogy Newspaper Columns: Clippings of June 6, 1896 - April 30, 1941.The readers of this newspaper column over a forty year period requested genealogy information and other readers responded. It is an invaluable resource for people doing New England research. It contains  information found no place else. The AGBI indexes hundreds of surname books and other genealogical records.

6. How does one find immigration records?

A multi-volume set edited by P. William Filby called Passenger and Immigration List Index has over 4.5 million immigrants who came to the New World between 1538 and 1940. This is available in paper, on CD-ROM, or online for subscription. It must be remembered that this is an index of published materials. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has the original ships’ manifests. Some of these lists are indexed and all have been microfilmed. You can also go to the Ellis Island records database for immigrants from 1892 to 1924. (See “top ten” online databases.)

There are several other published series Germans to America, Italians to America, Migration form the Russian Empire, and publications on immigrants from the Irish potato famine, Czechoslovakian, Dutch, and Jewish immigration, to name a few.

7. How can genealogists best use FirstSearch?

FirstSearch’s World Cat is well loved by genealogists since it gives them access to most genealogy books in the United States and some foreign countries. When searching for a family surname, enter the surname and the word “family” in the keyword search box, i.e. “Morrow family.” If you get too many hits, you can refine the search by adding the word “genealogy”. Searches for common surnames do not work well because it brings up too many hits but you can add a location, i.e., “Morrow family” and “Missouri.” The results on this search show published material about families, as well as, unpublished manuscript materials. The manuscript material will not be available on Interlibrary Loan unless it has been microfilmed. However, just knowing the location of unique materials is very useful. A query can then be submitted to the library holding this material.

8. What do I do when I come to a “dead-end” in my research?

Write to state and local libraries in places where your ancestors lived. State archives often hold original, unpublished documents for school, court, voting, land, marriage, birth, death, and probate.  Local libraries and historical societies often have vertical file materials, local publications, local card indexes, and other unpublished or locally published materials. Addresses for libraries can be found in the American Library Directory.

Suggest that the researcher see what is available in the National Archives on microfilm. There is a full index online at http://www.nara.gov. Some of the lesser-known federal records can give a fresh start to anyone’s research.  Some of these files are: passport applications, 1791-1925; homestead files, 1862-1908; civil war income tax records, 1862-1872; federal court records, 1789-1911; World War I draft registration cards, 1917-19, which include 28 million records for males age 18-35. The National Archives does not loan microfilms except for census and some military records. Material microfilmed by the National Archives can be borrowed from the some of the large public libraries or historical societies or from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and its local Family History Centers.

9. How can I do genealogy if I am adopted? Or, how do I locate adopted siblings?

There are several books on how to locate missing people or how to do the genealogy of adopted people. There are several organizations that help adoptees. Go to our section on Adoption for more information and details on organizations that can help. See the “Ten Suggested Genealogy Reference Books” for one good title.

10.   How do I find an obituary for my grandfather?  He died in Arizona (or any other place) in 1913, I don’t know exactly when or where.

First you will need an exact date of death.  See our section on Death Records for advice on how to find a death certificate or substitute document.  Remember that obituaries may not be published for days, even weeks after the death.  Then check out our section on Newspaper Research.  Some Archives and Libraries have indexes of obituaries for people who died in their state.