L is for Libraries and Local History

LMy A2Z 2016 theme is how to pursue an interest in family history/genealogy – I’d love you to join me on the journey.


 This is a snapshot view because I want to focus on libraries. What is local history and why does it matter to your family research? Put simply, it is the study of a particular town or area. Publications can be excellently researched but they can also suffer from being too anecdotal without supported research.

Why does it matter? Think of your own circumstances. Isn’t what happens in your town or region important in how it affects you: relevant government legislation, what societies exist, who is involved with them, what businesses operate, and has there been dramatic weather events. You get the idea and it will give you a clue why libraries are so important.


Library Dublin
The National Library of Ireland, Dublin. P Cass 2006

I can’t imagine doing my family history research without access to libraries. Along with archives they are the twin fountains of unexpected discoveries. They also come in all shapes and sizes, and often each type has something different to offer.

 Local Libraries

 Your local library is your easiest go-to place but will most likely have the more limited range. Usually there’ll be some introductory guides to genealogy and family history research. There will also be a selection of books about particular occupations or regions. Much will depend on the area where you live, and if perhaps, you live in the same region as your ancestors.

State and Reference Libraries

 These libraries offer a further step in your research. They will often have a dedicated genealogy area, with microfilms, microfiche and specialised books as well as, sometimes, access to the commercial genealogy sites. Among the library’s book shelves you will be bound to find books of relevance to occupation and place.

Think broadly and explore the shelves. Use whatever guides the library has prepared and be willing to ask advice the librarians about where to look for something – they’re Google in human form.

In the state or county where your ancestors lived you will also want to look in the reference section of the library. This is the white-gloves, pencils area where serious research takes place. There are all sorts of esoteric information mostly stored hidden away, and sometimes having to be ordered in with a time delay, so check before you make a long journey, and check if you need some form of ID.

The catalogue will certainly be of great help here, but remember you’re mainly looking for a topic, though if your ancestors are famous this is where you might find some genea-gold. Think about the clubs, societies, businesses and places with which your family may have been associated.

National Libraries

While state or regional libraries have that region as the focus, your national library is where you will look for items of importance to the nation. They are also usually the repository which have rights of legal deposit so that any book published in the country must have a copy stored with them. Something to remember when you’ve finished writing and publishing your family history <smile>.pc000054

Rose Stereograph Co (1920).THE NATIONAL LIBRARY, CANBERRA.

Image out of copyright. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/167680112

They store a diverse range of resources including oral recordings, maps, books, manuscripts, journals etc etc. You might want to check whether your national library, like Australia’s, lets you have a library card entitling you to use some online resources such as JSTOR (see J for Journals).

pandora_logoMany blogs have also been archived for posterity, including this one which thrills me no end that my grandchildren may one day still be able to read what I’ve written about our family through the National Library of Australia’s Pandora website.

University Libraries

If you haven’t been to uni, you may feel daunted by visiting a university library, but while you may not be able to borrow (check their rules) you can use their reading rooms to access more unusual books, older journals (new ones are mostly digital) and their reference area. Like other reference libraries they are donated materials from people and it’s amazing what you can find there. I’ve used them to great advantage back in the pre-digital era for old regional newspapers and even the Statistical Accounts of Scotland.


The genealogist’s delight – the Family History Library, Salt Lake City

Genealogy libraries and Family Research Centres 

I’ve already mentioned how varied the collections can be in a genealogy society library as well as offering access to indexes and commercial genealogy sites.

The Family Research Centres are run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) aka the Mormons. Because their religious philosophy centres of bringing the whole family to God (my understanding) they’ve contributed more than anyone else to the genealogy community.

While increasing amounts of their microfilmed records are being digitised and then indexed, that is still the tip of the iceberg. You can search their catalogue for the place your ancestors came from either using place or keyword (which I prefer) and see if you wish to order in an undigitised microfilm to read at one of their libraries. I’ve done so much of my research this way both in the pre-digital era and even now.

So join me on the library quest and see what exciting discoveries you can make. As governments the world over continue to place diminished emphasis (and funding) on these repositories of cultural heritage, let’s show them how wrong they are!

Thank you for visiting me on this journey. I love comments <smile>

There’s a plethora of reading choices on this year’s A to Z Challenge, so my challenge to you is to visit the sign-up page and select one (or more) blogs to read between the numbers 1300-1399.

10 thoughts on “L is for Libraries and Local History

  1. I’d love to get into a few libraries around the world that may hold secrets to some of my ancestors’ past. When I get more mobile.
    There is a Family Center in the next town over and I hope to get there this summer. I am making a list and checking it twice 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great idea to keep that running list. Don’t forget it’s best to order in films you may want to read before you go in your road trip. Or ring and check if they have them…in Australia we need to order them in.


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