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What is commonly referred to as a "family history" is a book or record of a specific family line or of a particular surname. Use a family history to find information compiled by other people about your family. Family histories are considered previous research and unless they contain references to original record sources, the information contained should all be verified.
Determining what research has already been done by others, including your own family members, can:
- Save you valuable research time.
- Help you find information in original records more quickly.
- Help you avoid unnecessary duplication of work.
- Provide clues for further research.
What You Are Looking For
The information you will find varies from record to record. A family history may include:
- Names of children, spouse, parents, siblings, and other family members.
- Birth or baptism, marriage, and death or burial information.
- Dates of other important events, such as immigration or land purchases.
- Place of residence.
- Military service.
- Religious affiliations.
- Countries or places of origin.
- Other biographical data.
These 2 steps will help you find a family history:
Step 1. Choose a surname.
By looking for information on a specific surname, you can find histories for your family and related families. Family histories are usually listed by the surname of the family in library catalogs.
Step 2. Obtain a family history.
You can find family histories through:
- Contacting relatives.
- The Family History Library.
- Family History Centers.
- Internet Sources.
- Archives and Libraries.
For information on obtaining family histories (except from relatives), click on one of the above or see Where to Find It.
Tip 1. How can I use interlibrary loan?
Many public and college libraries can borrow books from other libraries and archives. Only public and college libraries with microfilm readers can borrow microfilms.
- Go to your public or college library.
- Ask the librarian to check out a book or microfilm for you through interlibrary loan. You need to give the librarian the title of the book and the name of the author. For a microfilm, give the name and address of the archive that has the microfilm and their microfilm number.
- The library staff will help you with their procedures. There may be a small fee.
Where To Find Information Online
The following are examples of websites with family trees that can be searched by surname:
FamilySearch Centers and the Family History Library
Family History Library
The Family History Library has one of the largest collections of family histories in the world. There is no fee for using the library's collection in person.
To look for family histories through the Family History Library Catalog, go to FamilySearch.org:
- Click on the link to the Catalog
- Click on Surname Search
- Type your surname and press Enter for a list of books, films, etc. about that surname
- Click on the title that you want to look at
- Read the description of the family history
- If this is something you want to look at, write down the film or book number, or print the catalog entry
- If the item has been digitized and is available online, you can view the item by clicking on the link. You may also wish to do a Google search online for the item to see if a digital copy exists in some other collection.
- If the item is in the Family History Library and not yet online, you can order the film online and have the film shipped to a FamilySearch Center near you.
Archives and Libraries
Family histories are available in many archives and libraries. Some major archives and libraries in the United States are the:
- Newberry Library.
- Library of Congress.
- New England Historic and Genealogical Society Library.
- National Archives.
- Allen County Public Library
Many college and larger public libraries have family histories, particularly for their own states. Public libraries may be able to obtain the records through interlibrary loan. For more information about interlibrary loan, see the section below.
You can find addresses and phone numbers for town, county, and college libraries in the American Library Directory. The American Library Directory is available at most public and college libraries or you can look in WorldCat.org
State Archives and Libraries
State archives and university libraries may have family histories, particularly for their own states. The Archives and Libraries article of each state lists Internet and mailing addresses for several state archives, libraries, and historical societies. Their Internet sites may list what records they have.
Family, Genealogical, and Historical Societies
Many genealogical materials are available at societies. Some genealogical materials are available only at a society.
You may find societies and their addresses through the following sources, which are available at many public and college libraries:
- Directory of Family Associations, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley.
- Directory of Genealogical and Historical Societies in the U.S. and Canada, published by Iron Gate Publishing.
- Directory of Genealogical Societies in the U.S.A. and Canada, by Mary Meyer.
- Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada, edited by Mary Bray Wheeler.
- The Encyclopedia of Associations, published by Gale Research Co.
You can also check Internet sites for information about societies. See A Checklist of Compiled Sources and Where to Find Them.
Genealogical Search Services
Many genealogical search services will search family histories for a fee. These sources can help you find a genealogical search service:
- CyndisList "Professional Researchers, Volunteers & Other Research Services" lists many companies, individuals, and organizations that do research and mentions publications about how to hire a professional genealogist.
- Advertisements in major genealogical journals may help you find a researcher.
For more information, see Hiring a Professional Genealogist.