To Uncover Your Family History, Start at Your Library

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Looking to learn more about your family tree? Your local library offers extensive free resources for genealogy experts and hobbyists alike.

I Love Libraries spoke with librarian and genealogical researcher June Power, director of special collections and archives for the University of North Carolina at Pembroke; she shares her tips for how anyone can get started exploring their heritage below.

What are some of the most common genealogical resources and services libraries offer?

In my experience, it is mostly the specialized resources libraries have that are helpful with genealogical research such as collections of local history, family records that have been deposited in local libraries that are not yet available online, and of course a librarian to help navigate the myriad of online sources—sometimes via reference and sometimes via workshops and other programming opportunities. Also, many people access Ancestry.com through their library database subscriptions.

What advice would you give to members of the public who are interested in family history but aren’t sure how to get started?

Start with what you know, even if you don’t think it is a lot to go on. Put down what you know into an organized format and see where you have information lacking. That can then guide your research goals. Don’t try to do your entire genealogical background in one go—start small with a discrete research goal in mind and work from there.  

What do you enjoy most about working with genealogy?

I am a history buff so for me it is getting to the stories behind the bare facts on paper. I like to learn what people’s lives were like and how they lived. Pictures are among my favorite finds. And there is nothing more satisfying then finally breaking down a brick wall you have been working against for a long time and watching the pieces all fall into place.

Do you have a favorite memory from your work with genealogy in libraries?

It is so hard to pick just one, as it brings me such joy every time a patron gets excited about family research. As I am at a historically Native American institution, the workshops I give on specialized Native American resources are especially popular, and I really enjoy being able to focus on a particular population. Probably the best experience though was helping someone who was adopted by her stepfather connect with several biological siblings she never knew she had.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the public about libraries and genealogy?

I think with the popularity of genetic testing and increased globalization, people will find it more and more important to connect with their roots and learn more about the people they came from. I think this will be an area of increased reference need in all types of libraries and a research skill that librarians will need to utilize more frequently. It’s never too late or too early to begin an interest in family history.

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