If you are a newcomer to genealogy research, your experience in finding records to document your ancestors may have occurred mostly online so far. Quite possibly, you have filled out the initial slots on your family tree going back a few generations. Have you noticed that records get a little more scarce the further back you go? When you begin to run into challenges in locating the information you are searching for in databases online, what do you do? Experienced researchers know the answer to that question, and below you will discover key resources too.
Resources for finding records offline
Some of the most useful genealogy resources are not online yet. Perhaps only the index to an original document is online, and you want to see what is on the original. Sometimes only part of a collection is available in a genealogy database, and you may have spent countless hours searching without even realizing it. One tool that will help you get your bearings when you do not know where to turn is the Wiki at FamilySearch.org. Search the Wiki by location or topic to discover articles that link you to records both online and offline.
If you were trying to resources to document a marriage in Montgomery County, Ohio, you would enter that location into the search bar on the main page of the Wiki, and Montgomery County, Ohio Genealogy would be the first search result. Visit the article, and see an example of how the Wiki can help you learn about marriage records in Montgomery County, Ohio.
Many Facebook genealogy groups exist which provide help to genealogy related queries. Recently, Facebook updated the search feature allowing you to search across all public Facebook posts (See Facebook puts its search tool on steriods). That means you can search for groups by topic (Native American Genealogy) or locality (New England Genealogy) and post a question. Seeking an answer to a research question on Facebook is not so far fetched given the scores of people on Facebook willing to share what they know.
Specific places to find records offline
Perhaps the record you seek is only a microfilm away, and you can escape the extra effort and expense of doing courthouse research. Do a place search in the FamilySearch Catalog to see a list of resources available. Have the microfilm shipped to the closest family history center for viewing. If the record you find is a book and not a microfilm, search WorldCat.org to find the library closest to you that has the book. Some of these books circulate through interlibrary loan. If the book that you need does not circulate, contact the library for help in determining whether or not your ancestor is mentioned. Some libraries have online chat rooms accessible through their websites, and they have been found to be very accommodating.
When the record that you need is not on microfilm, you will need to determine if it is accessible through the local courthouse, archive, or some other repository. It is beneficial to research the available record types in an area. Study the online catalogs of the local libraries and archives. Visit the courthouse website to see if they provide a description of record types and time periods those records cover. Go back to that Facebook genealogy group you joined, and post a question to find out what they know about available records that they have found useful in the area you are researching. Remember that the moment that you undertook the study of your ancestor’s life, you also unknowingly became a student of record types too.
In the next article, you will learn about specific record types to look for and where to locate them if they are not online.