52 Weeks to a Better Genealogy: Online Databases at Your Public Library

I’m just squeezing in this week’s challenge:

“Online databases at your public library. Search your library’s web site and see if your card grants you access to online databases. Libraries (even small ones) often have wonderful online tools including genealogy databases, historical newspapers and more! Take some time and play with these little perks that come with a library card. You just may get some help in your own genealogy research and gain some free research tools to boot. If you don’t know how to access online library databases or you’re not sure if your branch has them, ask a librarian for guidance. If you have a blog, discuss which databases (if any) to which your library subscribes.”

I constantly turn to the online databases available through the Talbot County Free Library, especially their genealogy and newspaper databases, most of which I can access from the comfort of my own home using my library card number.

Here are my go-to resources offered by TCFL:

  • HeritageQuest Online: provides access to census records, books and articles, Revolutionary War files, Freedman’s Bank records and the U.S. Serials Set.
  • Sanborn Maps of Maryland: great resource for viewing historical maps of towns across Maryland.
  • Archives of the Easton Star-Democrat newspaper via Newsbank (I only wish these went back further).
  • Archives of the Baltimore Sun via ProQuest.

I also can access the databases available through the Caroline County Public Library. When I did research in their Maryland Room, I registered my TCFL library card with them so I could access their databases too.

Their archives of the Denton Journal through Newspaper Archive are spectacular and have provided much needed clues for some of my research projects.

52 Weeks to a Better Genealogy, Week 5: WorldCat

Ha! Finally caught up. I must profess my love for WorldCat — I use it all the time when helping patrons at the Internet Public Library because it’s the easiest way for me to tell what libraries are closest to them (if they’ve given me their location). It’s easy enough to show folks how to look up a book on this service and locate the closest copy, even if they haven’t given me their location.

If you find a book on Google Books, you can click through from there (use the “Find in a library” link) to see the book’s WorldCat results including which libraries near you may have it. Often when I stumble upon a book this way, I check out the subject headings for the book (see the red box below; click on the image for a larger version):

If you’re really lucky, the subject headings for your book will include surnames — click on the related headings for more titles focused on these subjects. It’s a serendipitous way to discover new resources.

52 Weeks to a Better Genealogy: Inter-Library Loan

I’m late (again) for this weekly series, but I’m also going to take a different spin on the original mission from We Tree:
“Learn about your local public library’s inter-library loan (ILL) policy. Pick a genealogy-related book that you want to read that is not in your library’s collection. Ask the librarian how to request the book from another library. Find the different library systems from which you can request books through your own library, as this can dramatically increase the number of genealogy books to which you have access. If you have a genealogy blog, write about your experience with requesting items through your library’s ILL service.”

I’ve used and am a huge proponent of inter-library loan (ILL) services. Through my volunteer work with the Internet Public Library, I constantly refer patrons to their local libraries because even if their library doesn’t have a particular book that they may need or want, they usually can request it via inter-library loan.

The state of Maryland actually maintains a fleet of vehicles for this purpose (and if I could find my spring 2008 class notes, I could tell you exactly how many). The other morning, I saw a van belonging to the Eastern Shore Regional Library heading west on Route 50 here on the Shore. I wonder if they were transporting books for the ILL program.

Here’s how the ILL loan process works at my library: once I determine that a book I need is not available in my library’s catalog, but is available at another library in the system (either via WorldCat [more on this in a future post] or on Marina, the state’s library holdings database), I simply call or email the library and ask them to request the book for me. They also can request books from out-of-state institutions, but there is a $5 charge for this (still cheaper than having to buy your own copy of most books!). The hitch is that if a book is in high demand, you may have to wait a while before it becomes available to send your way.

I’ve also used the ILL system within the University System of Maryland libraries. I work on the College Park campus, but when I needed a book at one of the campuses in Baltimore, I was able to request that it be sent to one of the libraries on the College Park campus for me to pick up. Way more convenient!


Carnival of Genealogy: Volunteerism

This post is in response to Carnival of Genealogy #88: Volunteerism.

ipl2: Information You Can Trust
I am a volunteer reference librarian with the Internet Public Library. As with a brick-and-mortar library, the service provides resources to which patrons can help themselves or they may submit questions to trained librarians for help.

I have a Masters in Library Science — all volunteers on the IPL either already have an MLS degree or are MLS students in reference services classes around the country. I learned about the IPL through such a class in library school and really enjoyed helping out IPL patrons. After my class ended, I stayed on as a volunteer. Volunteers must work on practice questions and have their answers evaluated before they can answer real questions from the public. We are trained to answer questions from kindergartners, Ph.D. candidates and beyond.

The IPL receives questions on all kinds of topics, but of course, I especially enjoy answering the history- and genealogy-related questions. I’ve helped genealogy-focused patrons track down elusive obituaries and find free resources for getting started in genealogy research and for mapping out their family trees. On the historical end of things, I’ve dug up information on 1950s Andean railway motor cars, an 1800s insane asylum in Pennsylvania and the religious leanings of a U.S. president. In an “Antiques Roadshow” moment, I got to help a patron identify what type of pottery he had (Blue Willow, in case you were wondering). You never know what patrons are going to ask for next.

The best part about answering an IPL question is not just finding the answer a patron needs, but teaching them how I found it so they can find facts more easily next time. We don’t just give you an answer, we point you to it. And for any concerned parents or teachers out there, rest assured that we only use trusted sources.

I’ve relied on some of the IPL’s aggregated resources for my personal research. Of interest to genealogists: the General Reference section on the Pathfinders page.