From branches to roots

genealogy-computerFor a very, very long time, the success of genealogy enthusiasts depended on one key attribute: the ability to travel. If you wanted to get your hands on passenger manifests, family histories, local church records, death certificates, marriage licenses and all other manner of ancestral data, you had to travel to the source—to city halls, churches, local newspaper archives and libraries.

Obviously, that’s not the case today. As a novice genealogist, I was able to trace my family history back to France in the late 15th century, but I certainly didn’t do it via planes, trains and automobiles. Like so many others, I did most of my research online. That’s a fundamental change in how both amateurs and professional historians approach the subject.

What has stayed the same, however, is the importance of libraries in genealogical research. Because libraries, more than many other institutions, have been the ones to put all that great, local, historical content online.

All your users need is a library card, an internet connection and a few lessons. Let me share some of what I’ve found out with you, and with them.

Reaching in to touch the past

Many libraries are, obviously, aware of the local treasures available to history buffs in their own hometowns. But as the world has become more mobile, I guarantee that there are people from all over the globe who are interested in finding that same information, just from thousands of miles away. As libraries genealogy_videodigitize these items and make them visible on the web, searchers can find them. Easier access to ancestral records is a major factor driving the growing interest in genealogy and family history.

Take a few minutes and view the brief demonstration I gave to librarians at the Public Library Association conference in Denver earlier this year. It’s a good way to get started using WorldCat as a tool to connect people to their family trees and to bring new users and attention to the unique historical materials in your library.

Thanks for watching. For more information, check out these two resources: “Genealogy resources in libraries” and “WorldCat for genealogy research.”

Question…what is the most interesting, unique or strange piece of local history in your library? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #OCLCnext