Your Guide to Using Libraries and Archives for Genealogical Research

  • Libraries contain books and other media, mostly published. Librarie may also contain manuscript collections.
  • Archives contain non-current and usually unpublished records of individuals, organizations institutions. Archives often also contain book collections.
    For Information on finding a locating and using Archives, see my separate page on Archives.

Table of Contents

  • Finding Libraries
    • Local, State and University Libraries
    • Libraries with strong genealogy collections
    • The Family History Library and its branches (on a separate page)
  • Exploring Libraries
    • Library Content:
      • Local History and Genealogy Collections
      • Reference and other helpful books
      • Library created index files and databases
      • Library created digital collection
      • Newspaper
    • Library Services
      • Subscriptions to Databases
        • e.g., HeritageQuest, Fold3, History & Genealogy Mastor Index, Historical newspapers.
      • Reference Assistance ( Ask A Librarian)
      • Interlibrary Loan
      • Photocopy

OCLC: The World's Libraries Connected

  • WorldCat (sometimes called First Search) includes the holdings of many (but not all) libraries in the United States and in many other libraries world wide. It also includes the holdings of many archives.
  • Use world cat to find what books have been published on a topic or to o find which libraries own a specific book
    • Search OCLC's World Cat.
      • Once you select a book, type your zip code in the box provided and it will show owing libraries nearest you.
      • Not every owning library will appear -- usually it is the larger ones. It never hurts to double check the catalog of a specific library.
      • If you want to link to the record you find, use
  • OCLC knows that genealogists are using OCLC and wants to help
  • You can install a Facebook or Firefox browser plug in to have the earch box always handy.
    • Don't want to do that? Just google this phrase: "Find In a Library".
      • Too much to google? Just remember the url:
  • To save information in WorldCat, first create an account. With an account you can create lists and bibliographies. You can also review books.

Finding Libraries

Local Libraries

Many local libraries have genealogical and historical material specific to the area they serve. By using these libraries -- or their websites! -- you may find a great deal of helpful information about area residents and events. Sometimes you will have to go to a larger nearby library -- often the library in the nearest county seat or larger city -- to get that information. Don't forget to look at the holdings of University libraries! Local historical and genealogical societies might have their own libraries. And of course, if there is a state library or archives it may contain a bonanza of information.

I often start with information at the U.S.Genweb site for the county I am searching. This site often gives information as to libraries that might be helpul to area researchers. If I am lucky, I will find a map of the county, so I can see where my ancestor lived relative to the nearest cities.

If the U.S, Geneweb page for the county fails, try the Linkpendium or Cyndi'sList for that county under libraries and archives.

Try these directories to find a library -- although I must admit, often I just google some key words, e.g. flint michigan public library and the right entry appears in the first few hits.

Libraries with Strong Genealogy Collections

Some libraries house a genealogy collection that allows a researcher to do reseach in a multi-state area.

Within an hour of Ann Arbor; strong genealogy collections

Within a half day's drive from Ann Arbor; very strong genealogy collections

In Washington DC

Top 10 Public Libraries for the Genealogist, identified by Rich Crume in the Oct. 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine. These are libraries you might visit because they hold large collections that cover a large geographic area. Some might be close to home, some a nice place to spend a day or two while on vacation and you might find one or two that will be a destination place.

And add to the these:

Examples of the value of university libraries to genealogists

Find more

Exploring Libraries: Content and Services

Here are some ways to determine if a library has material and services helpful to a genealogist. (It's not always easy!)


Library Services

Return to Bobbie's Genealogy Classroom

This page last updated February 25, 2016