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Researching Your Family Tree 101 
 
by Shelley Livaudais September 01, 2005

Step Six: Courthouses, Libraries & Historical Societies

After you have gleaned information from websites and message boards, you may want to obtain copies of official documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, which were generally recorded after 1900. If you can’t find a volunteer to help out, a trip to the town or city will be necessary. City or county courthouses often house these documents, and can make either certified (official) or non-official copies of the documents. Some states, however, require proof of kinship to the individual about whom you are seeking information, so find out what the requirements are before making the trip. Also, copies can often be ordered online or by phone, so you might be able to save yourself a trip.

Local libraries are often a very valuable resource for genealogical research. Most libraries have a local history or genealogy section, where you’ll usually find books about the town or even specific families, microfilm archives of local newspapers (which will include obituaries) and, occasionally, indices of vital statistics for the area. More and more libraries are beginning to digitize their holdings, but until this process is complete, your best bet is a physical visit to the library. Be sure to bring money for copies, and a notebook for taking notes.

Also, many towns often have historical societies which collect memorabilia and genealogical data from the town’s history. Here you will find volunteer experts who, if they don’t have the information you need, will be able to point you in the right direction. These volunteers will be familiar with common surnames of the area, and might even be able to introduce you to a distant relative. Keep in mind that many historical societies, especially in the New England area, are only open from late Spring through early Fall, so call ahead to make sure someone will be at the center during your visit.

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