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Researching Your Family's History

Finding Books: Online Library Catalogs and Interlibrary Loan

Local Research -- Where Your Ancestor LivedAfter you have worked with the catalogs above, use your favorite browser (Google, Mozilla Firefox, etc.) to look for a library in or near a place an ancestor lived. Check the library's online catalog. Local libraries have the best collections of books on their local history and local families.  You should be able to search any online catalog for any public library in the United States. To borrow a book that looks of interest to you will require that you go through you local library's interlibrary loan system mentioned above. Usually there is some library that owns your book somewhere that is willing to lend it. These books can be gold mines of information.

Six Key Books for Family Research

The Source and Red Book Online

The online versions of these two volumes have been missing in action for quite awhile now. Thanks to a recent blog posting by Amy Johnson Crow, I've learned where they now reside and I've been able to replace the links here.. They may have disappeared because of a security problem Ancestry was having after its aquisition of  rootsweb. Regardless of the cause, the full text of these volumes have been inaccessible to me for well over a year. This is one of many reasons it imperative to have access to hardcopy editions at places such as your local library and to also subscribe to very good blogs such as Amy Johnson Crow's linked below.

The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy:  This work introduces many of the various types of records available to genealogists and how they can best be used.

Ancestry Red Book: American, State, County, and Town Sources:  The Red Book approaches genealogy from a geographical angle. It explains where in each state various records can be found. Expecting uniformity state by state is a mistake. Consulting this work will save you much time and trouble.

Source: Amy Johnson Crow's Blog posting on "5 Things You Might be Missing on Ancestry" at (See # 5).

Family History Periodicals and Magazines at The Newton Free Library

Periodicals and magazines in Special CollectionsThere are a number of magazines and periodicals published on the subject of genealogy. Some cover a broad range of topics such as Internet Genealogy and American Ancestors.  Some are more specialized. Avotaynu and The New England Historic and Genealogical Register are two examples of these. You can take a look at magazines such as these at your local public library. Here at the Newton Free Library they are kept in the library's Special Collections Room. Most issues, except the most current, can be checked out, the only items that circulate from Special Collections. All other items housed here are for in house research only. Magazines offer a wealth of up-to-date information that can help your own research and offer tips that can save you a great deal of wasted time. You don't even have to subscribe. Take a look through some the next time you are in the library.

Databases and Websites: Finding Important Information

What is the difference between a website and a database? A "quick and dirty" defintion is that you have to pay for access to a database and websites are free. Often a substantial number of paid work hours have been put in by a large group of people to collect, organize, and update accumulated information found in a database.  The database is the product of a business and is made available to the consumer for a fee.  Individual towns, library networks, counties, and states often give their residents access to databases that staff have researched and found to be useful for their patrons. They pay for them so you don't have to. There are exceptions. has a huge number of databases. It may be as large as Ancestry.  Everything on their website is free. To learn more about FamilySearch, see "Using Family Search's Record Search" on the Going Online page of this LibGuide.

The state of Massachusetts makes a number of databases available to any of its residents who have access to a computer with an Internet connection at no cost to individual users.  The state provides this information as a remote or home access service.  Any of these databases can be consulted using any computer located within the state. For these you do not even have to have a library card. If a county, library network, city, or town provides access, however, you will most likely have to enter your library card number to use the information,  at least if it is available remotely. Databases used within a library will not need a library card, though you may need to use your card to access a library's public computer. If you are just visiting the area, check to see if the library offers guest passes. At most your responsibility to a company for using their database through a library connection will be either entering the number of a free library card or entering your local library and using one of their public computers.  Expensive databases made available for free -- not a bad deal.

No matter where you live, make sure you check with your local public library or library network to see which databases they provide and how you can access them.

Genealogy Databases Available Only in the Library



Below are two genealogy specific databases provided by the Newton Free Library.  American Ancestors and Ancestry Library Edition can only be accessed within the library.  

If you do not live in Newton, check with your local library to see what databases they provide. Also find out if other county or state wide systems provide additional database coverage for you. See below for information on our databases.


Heritage Quest Available to Newton Residents at Home

HERITAGE QUEST is the library's newest genealogy database. The link below allows you to look at Heritage Quest from your home computer--if you live in Newton, MA. You need to sign in using your Newton library card number.  Its database contains mostly printed material that compliments the original records in Ancestry. Heritage Quest includes Census Records, Genealogy and Local History Books, Freedman's Bank records (1800-1900), Revolutionary War pension records, and the U.S. Serial Set.  For more information, as well as a comparison of Ancestry and Heritage Quest, see below.  Note that the PERSI index to periodical articles is no longer offered by Heritage Quest. It can now be found at FindMyPast, a subscription site not offered by the library.

Other Database Types Useful for Researching Family History

Periodicals and magazines in Special Collections

The Newton Genealogy Club

Currently the Special Collections Room where we meet is closed to the public and there are no in library meetings being held due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The Newton Genealogy Club is about members helping members. We can discuss someone's research, resources (online and off) for an ancestor hunt, new developments, how a beginner can get started.  Anything related to family history is fair game. Our members have a range of experience, from rank beginners who don't know where to begin all the way to Ruy, a certified genealogist. (He began the club and I took over when he stepped down.)  Everyone needs help with something and the discussions are fun and very lively.

Interested? The Newton Genealogy Club always meets on the second Wednesday of the month.  The only month we skip is August. The meetings are from 7:00 to 9:00 in the evening.

Unless otherwise notified, we meet in the Special Collections Room at the back left of the first floor of the library.

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Ginny Audet
Reference Department
Newton Free Library
330 Homer Street
Newton, MA 02459