Obtain the Records
When you selected a record (in Step 3), you may have learned at which library or archives the record is located.
Genealogical information can be found on the internet, in libraries, archives, public and private offices and in various publications. You may visit or write to the repository or send a friend, family member, or paid researcher to search the records.
There are many resources on the internet that you can review from the comfort of your own home. Some are free and some charge for searching and viewing the images.
A list to get you started can be found here, though there are many other websites and resources available as well:
Family History Library
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has the largest collection of genealogical information in the world. Even if you did not use the Family History Library Catalog to select your records, many of the records you select are likely available through the library and its branch centers. For more details about the library's services and resources see the FamilySearch Internet site, click here.
If the microfilm or microfiche you wish to view at the Family History Library is located at the "vault," you can now order it into the library before you come to visit. Use the FamilySearch Microfilm Ordering website for the Family History Library. Instructions on how to order the films can be found on Ordering Microfilm or Microfiche From a Family History Center.
Family History Centers
There are over 4,500 family history centers around the world where researchers can use most of the records in the Family History Library. Most records are available on microfilm or microfiche and can be used for a small handling fee. You can order a microfilm into your local Family History Center by using the FamilySearch Microfilm Ordering website. For more information click on Ordering Microfilm or Microfiche From a Family History Center.
Most centers are small facilities and are located in meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These centers are sponsored by the Church for research. They are open to the public free of charge. The volunteer staff at the centers can help you use the collection, although they cannot do research for you.
Each center has microfilm and microfiche reading machines, access to the Family History Library Catalog, the International Genealogical Index, and in North America, other FamilySearch databases. Most centers provide Internet access and other computer programs to help with genealogical research. Each center has a small collection of reference books, often available on microfiche.
Most resources are not immediately available, but can be ordered from Salt Lake City or regional service centers. The centers do not collect records from their local area. They are circulating branches of the worldwide collection of the Family History Library. Check to see if a copy of the records you selected are in a local family history center; if not, ask the staff to help you order a copy.
You may obtain a list of family history centers near you on the FamilySearch Internet at Find a Family History Center Near You. The same Internet page also has links to more details about center resources and services.
Because the library and centers do not have a copy of every genealogical record, you will need to check other sources for some records.
Other Research Libraries
Major research libraries with significant genealogical collections are found in every country. They include national libraries, such as the United States Library of Congress, or the British Library, private libraries such as the Society of Genealogists Library in London, and major public libraries such as the New York Public Library.
Major libraries are identified in Wiki articles for most nations, each province in Canada, and each state of the United States. Most major cities have good private or public libraries. Libraries in the United States and Canada with genealogical collections are described in—
Filby, P. William. Directory of American Libraries with Genealogy or Local History Collections. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1988. (FHL book 973 A3fi)
An Internet catalog for hundreds of U.S. and Canadian public and college libraries is available at WorldCat. If you find a source in this catalog, you can see which libraries have a copy, and how far that library is from your zip code.
Ask a librarian to help you use the library catalog, which is the key to the collection. Every research library has some collections not available elsewhere as well as records found in other repositories. Some libraries collect extensively for a specific area and may be the best source for that area.
Public and college libraries have many published and some microform records. They usually have a good family history collection for the town or county they serve. Most have a reference collection and can help you locate other records of interest. Small local libraries can offer invaluable information to the researcher. They often have copies of local newspapers which contain obituary information with much detail. Many of these newspapers have been microfilmed, and the only place to find them is at the local library.
Directories of public libraries are available for most major countries, for example see Libweb.
Make friends with librarians and archivists. Being nice to the staff at a library or archives often pays big dividends.
Most public and college libraries provide interlibrary loan services that allow you to borrow many records from other libraries. This is especially helpful if you live some distance from where your ancestors lived. These services are most useful for obtaining published books and microfilms of newspapers and city directories.
Books at the Family History Library which cannot be loaned (unless on microfilm or microfiche), are often available through your nearest public library.
Many libraries will not lend family histories. Some rental libraries (described below) include family histories in their circulating collection. One public library with an extensive collection of genealogical material that does make them available on inter-library loan is—
- Midwest Genealogy Center
- Mid-Continent Public Library
- 3440 S. Lee's Summit Road
- Independence, MO 64055-1923
Original Record Holder
Many records you want to search may still be held by the organization that created them. As you learn who created the records, you may want to visit or write to the local vital records office, the town hall, the parish church, cemetery, or commercial and military organizations.
Courthouses and Government Offices
Many public or government documents are at state, county, city, or town courthouses or offices. The Family History Library has many records on microfilm, but many others are available only at these offices. Addresses are in Wiki articles and instructional handbooks.
Many public and private organizations (such as societies and churches) have placed their older records in their own archives or other local archives. Often these records are not available elsewhere. Most federal or state jurisdictions have their own archives, with significant collections of genealogical records.
Very few archives will search the original documents for you, but, for a small fee, many will search an index and provide copies of the information they find.
Another option is to request a list of private researchers for hire at their archives.
For a directory of archives arranged by state, province, or nation, see Repositories of Primary Sources.
Many societies maintain small collections of records. Their collections may include membership information, local history, and query files that identify the interests of researchers. Many historical societies are open to the public. Others, sponsored by a genealogical society or a fraternal or ethnic group, may be restricted to members. Most are usually quite helpful to all researchers. Some surname organizations have extensive collections the names in which they are interested.
Wiki articles identify major societies. For an Internet list of local United States genealogical societies see Historical and Genealogical Societies of the United States. Addresses and descriptions of professional societies, trade associations, labor unions, military, fraternal, nationality, cultural and religious organizations, veterans and lineage societies, fan clubs, and other groups of all types throughout the world are given in—
Encyclopedia of Associations, published in three series: National Organizations of the U.S. (22,200), International Organizations (22,300), and Regional, States and Local Organizations (115,000). (Detroit: Gale Research, annual) Available on the Internet as part of LexisNexis; At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 E4gr.
Publishers and Booksellers
You can purchase current books and reprints from the publishers. An increasing number of publishers are printing abstracts of original records, reprints, compiled records, and background records. A local book dealer or library can help you identify publishers. See also—
Marian Hoffman, ed., Genealogical and Local History Books in Print: General Reference and World Resources, 5th ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1997). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 929.1016 H675g.
Genealogical journals and newsletters can be an excellent source of genealogical records. Periodicals publish compiled genealogies, as well as copies (transcripts, abstracts and extracts) of original records. Many also include background information, such as instructional material and finding aids, including indexes and bibliographies. Journals are available for many localities, and usually print records about local families. They are often published by a local society and are found in many public libraries. Genealogical periodicals are listed in—
Many journals have their own excellent indexes. English language (and French-Canadian) genealogical periodicals are also collectively indexed on the Internet in the Periodical Source Index at Heritage Quest Online. This is a subscription site, but many Family History Centers and other genealogical libraries have a subscription and let visitors use it for free.
E-mail and Correspondence
Strive to see the most original record with your own eyes. Never fully trust records selected or copied by someone else because they may have been overlooked something important.
But, if you cannot visit a records repository, you may e-mail or write to archives or organizations to request a copy of the records you need. You may learn about other researchers who are willing to share their findings with you. For difficult problems, you may want to hire a professional researcher to help you.
When writing to request services, you will be more successful if your e-mail or letter is brief and specific. You will usually need to send a check or money order to pay in advance for photocopy or search services, although some organizations will bill you later. The Family History Library has published brief "Letter-Writing Guides" for some European countries.
Keep the following in mind as you prepare your correspondence:
- Be courteous and considerate of the person's time who will answer.
- Make your request clear and simple. Do not ask complex questions or request detailed searches.
- Keep a copy of your e-mail or letter and note it on your research log.
- Type your e-mail or letter in one page or less.
- Be sure your own contact information is correct.
- Be sure the information and address for the person or repository is correct. The Internet usually has the most current contact information.
- E-mail is usually better than surface mail. If you decide to use surface mail, enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope when writing within your own country. For letters outside you country, enclose International Reply Coupons (available from you Post Office) for postage.
- When contacting other researchers, offer to pay copy and postage costs.
For more information about how to write for genealogical records see—
"Correspondence 101" at Introduction to Genealogy [Internet site] at http://genealogy.about.com/library/lessons/blintro3e.htm [accessed 6 April 2008].
Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County, Michigan, "Guide to Genealogical Correspondence" at GSWC [Internet site] at http://www.hvcn.org/info/gswc/bibliography/correspond.htm [accessed 6 April 2008].
For contact information and addresses use search engines like Google or Yahoo, or see—
"Societies and Groups Index" at Cyndi's List at http://www.cyndislist.com/society.htm [accessed 8 April 2008].
"Libraries, Archives, and Museums Index" at Cyndi's List at http://www.cyndislist.com/libes.htm [accessed 8 April 2008].
Historical and Genealogical Societies of the United States [Internet site] at http://www.obitlinkspage.com/hs/ [accessed 6 April 2008].
Elizabeth Petty Bentley, Genealogist's Address Book: State and Local Resources, with Special Resources Including Ethnic and Religious Organizations, 6th ed. (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub., 2009). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D24ben 2009.
Professional Researchers. You can employ private researchers to search the records for you. Lists of professional researchers are available at not cost on the Internet at—
- International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGenSM)
- Board for the Certification of Genealogists®
Similar lists are available from organizations in other countries. See Wiki articles or handbooks for specific addresses. Local libraries and societies may also provide the names of individuals in the area who will search records for you.
For more information see Hiring a Professional Researcher.
Photocopies. The Family History Library (see Photoduplication Services) and many other libraries will make limited photocopies for a small fee. You will need to specify the exact pages you need. Many will also photocopy a few pages of an index or an alphabetical record (such as a city directory) for a specific surname.
If they provide any at all, most libraries offer only limited correspondence services, primarily to help patrons get access to the library's records. They do not offer extensive research services. Inquire about the services or fees before you send a request. Limit requests to one or two questions or topics. For detailed requests, you will need to hire a professional genealogist.