Expand Your Research Options Using Catalog Subjects

Expand Your Research Options Using Catalog Subjects

The FamilySearch Catalog. Chances are you use it. But are you using all it offers? Case in point: subject headings.

Subject Headings are likely something you’ve encountered in other library catalogs. You will see subject headings in pretty much every library catalog you use, even the FamilySearch Catalog. So what are they? “Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) is a list of words and phrases – called headings – that are used to indicate the topics of library resources. It is used by most academic and research libraries in the United States, as well as by many public and school libraries. It is also used by libraries throughout the world....LCSH brings consistency to library collections by categorizing topics into logical arrangements, and by controlling synonyms, variant spellings, and homographs.”[1] So in a nutshell, subject headings are a way that library materials are cataloged. 

What this means for you is the opportunity to find other works that are similar to your item of interest. This doesn’t always work to our advantage, sometimes there simply aren’t other similar resources in the catalog, but in some cases, you might uncover additional resources. I find this especially helpful in cases where I have conducted a keyword search.

November 2021 FamilySearch Catalog

So let’s look at two examples from the FamilySearch Catalog. In this first example, I did a Place search on Spain, Madrid and then chose the category Civil Registration. This is the card catalog entry for the single result in this category.

FamilySearch Catalog Madrid

Notice under Subjects it says Locality Subjects and provides two links:

Spain, Madrid - Census

Spain, Madrid - Civil registration

In this case, the civil registration link is for this entry and no others exist in this category. The census link includes two resources, this entry and another.

Now let’s look at a different example, this time I conducted a keyword search on the phrase “women newspaper.” This is an example where my keyword phrase probably isn't the best so I could benefit from other suggestions. One of my results was the book, Index of references to American women in colonial newspapers through 1800. Notice that in this case not only are there more links but they are divided by Locality Subjects and Library of Congress Subjects.

FamilySearch Catalo American Women

Notice that these include Locality Subjects for Genealogy and Newspaper Indexes for the United States as well as Library of Congress Subjects for Women and American Newspapers. In this case, the LOC subjects lead me to no other resources. However, the Locality Subjects lead me to over 100 additional resources. This can be beneficial in helping me locate additional items for my research.

The FamilySearch Catalog is a vital resource for your genealogy. Don't stop at entering a search. Study your results to get the most from your research. Learn more about using the Catalog so your research can benefit. To start, read the FamilySearch Wiki page “Introduction to the FamilySearch Catalog.” 


[1] “Process for Adding and Revising Library of Congress Subject Headings,” Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/aba/cataloging/subject/lcsh-process.html: accessed 18 November 2021).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Capturing Your Family's Food Memories


I just finished reading actor Stanley Tuccis’ new book Taste - My Life Through Food. In it, he recounts his life and the role food played from his childhood to his young adult years, his marriages and children, to his most recent bout with cancer. It’s more than an autobiography, it is peppered with recipes that he fondly recalls. Readers are privy to simple recipes like his father’s Pasta con Aglio e Oilio (pasta with garlic and olive oil) and Tomato Salad to the more complex Timpano, a special Christmas recipe in the Tucci family.

Reading this memoir is like sitting down with Stanley Tucci and talking, eating, and laughing. He comes across as a “real person” and not a celebrity. His love for Italian food is infectious. I devoured the book in one day.


But this isn’t a book review.

As I read and enjoyed this book I thought about what a great family history book it was and how we  should all consider writing something similar. So often it’s difficult to write a family history because you may not feel like you’re a writer and it can seem like an overwhelming task. But you can write about memories of food! You start with your memories and what you know. Those memories might encompass several generations (in my case I knew one of my paternal great-grandmothers, a cook, very well). You can start with documenting your family (you, parents, grandparents, etc) and your food history. Possible writing prompts include:

  • What was a special occasion at your house and what did you eat? 
  • What foods did you eat for the holidays (Thanksgiving, Easter, etc)?
  • What did you eat for birthdays?
  • What did your parents or grandparents serve when you were sick?
  • What was an after-school snack when you were young?
  • What foods did you eat at your grandparents and how was that different than what you ate at home?
  • Did anyone in your family have a garden? What did they grow? How did they use that food?
  • Did your family hunt or fish? What recipes were cooked to incorporate that food?
  • What are foods that come from your ethnic/heritage background?
  • Where did you buy food? 
  • What food was considered a treat?
  • What rules did your family have around eating (clean plate, have to try everything, etc)?
  • What did you eat for school lunches?
  • What’s the “weirdest” food your family ate?

You get the picture. From those questions you can write up short stories, maybe just a page or two long. You can add recipes when appropriate and even images of you cooking those recipes, or photos of your family cooking, in the kitchen, at the table, etc. This isn't a cookbook, this is a family food history featuring a handful of recipes.

Tucci’s food memoir isn’t just about him. He introduces us to his parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family. He then discusses his friends, wives, children and stepchildren. It’s not the story of one man’s obsession with food (although, that’s part of it) it’s the story of ancestry, a homeland, family past and present, and his memories of them. He writes of his mom:

"Food, its preparation, serving, and ingesting, was the primary activity and the main topic of conversation in my household growing up. My mother insists that she was capable of little more than boiling water when she married my father. If this is true, she has more than made up for this shortcoming over the last century. I can honestly say that on the four-burner electric stove she used throughout my childhood and on the gas hob that replaced it many years later, she has never cooked a bad meal. Not once. The focus of her cooking is Italian, pimply recipes from her family or my father’s family.” [1]

Genealogy can be an act of gathering solely names and dates to make generational connections. But a family history narrative that includes memories of food is appealing to family members who are not interested in genealogy.

Thanksgiving is approaching in the United States, but no matter wherever you are, this is a great time to ask your family about their food memories, swap recipes, and document you family’s food history. 

What precious memories will your family food memoir recount?


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



[1] Tucci, Stanley. Taste. My Life Through Food (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2021) p. 12-13.

5 Places to Look for Your Ancestor's Burial Location

The Simsbury Cemetery in Simsbury, Connecticut. Copyright Marian Pierre-Louis

Sure, you know the BIG cemetery websites. Chances are, you use them all the time. You may have even uploaded gravestone photos to those websites. But what are the websites with cemetery and burial information that you don't use? Below are 5 to consider as you research your ancestors.

1. Genuki


GENUKI "provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland." Volunteer supported, this website provides all kinds of links and information you need to research the UK or Ireland. Once you locate the place you are researching, you can choose a Cemeteries link, or you can search using the name of the location and the word "cemeteries." This will provide you with links and information about cemeteries in the area, steering you towards cemetery transcription projects.

2. US GenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project


US GenWebTombstone

I think old books and websites are sometimes forgotten or discarded because they don't have all the bells and whistles. The US GenWeb Tombstone Transcription project was once one of the few free websites providing researchers with genealogical content. When they began, they had a novel idea. "We need to record these tombstone inscriptions now---before they are lost forever to the winds and the rains. However, many cemeteries have already been recorded by various Genealogical Societies, just as many have not. And, of those recorded, how accessible is that data to the world? If we join together and do this recording, we will guarantee that our ancestors are not forgotten----that their memorials will live on so that future generations may remember then as well as we do."

Today, some of what they provided in terms of indexes can be found elsewhere as digitized materials. However, it still worth checking. The USGenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project can easily be regarded as something you wouldn't need considering what cemetery content is available online. Still, as a volunteer project, you never know what they captured vs. what was perhaps captured afterward. It's still a place to exhaust before giving up on finding a burial. Transcriptions and some photos can be found on the website. It's a pretty basic search and browse but is a must for exhausting US online cemetery information.

3. CanadaGenWeb's Cemetery Project


CanadaGenWeb's Cemetery Project "currently offers a free and searchable listing of over 18,000 known Canadian cemeteries. We are continuously adding new information provided by volunteers." You can search the website by a person or a cemetery. Currently, the website is undergoing some maintenance. Those interested in the website should also join their Facebook page. Joining the Facebook group will help you receive information about updates to the site.

4. Interment.net


Interment.net boasts 25+ million "cemetery records, transcripts, and burial registers, from tens of thousands of cemeteries across the world, all contributed by genealogists, cemeteries, government agencies, and private organizations." You can search and browse by region or special collections (including U.S. veterans burials and mining disasters). This collection is a single-source worldwide collection, which is different than similar websites. They define single-source as "Each transcription we publish comes from a single-source, be it the cemetery office, government office, church office, archived document, a tombstone transcriber. Other websites already do an excellent job of crowd-sourcing a single cemetery together. But genealogists also need to see the original records from a single source. That's what we offer." However, there is something else it lacks that the other big cemetery websites have, photographs. Keep in mind that as you browse, you will need to scroll down the page to find various links to places and cemeteries. For those searching for U.S. ancestors, you may want to read a previous Interment.net blog post, WPA Historical Records Survey about the WPA and its role in the cemetery indexes we use today.

5. Genealogy Society Websites

Obviously, this isn't one website. This is a reminder to check the local genealogical society where your ancestor lived and died (because they could have died in a different location). Genealogy societies conduct cemetery transcription projects that they publish online and in book form. In some cases, they may have this information behind a member paywall. Joining the society and having access to members-only content can be worthwhile. In addition, they are the experts on that location. So even if they haven't conducted a cemetery project, they may have information that can help you in your search. Don't forget they may also research for a fee.

Where is Your Ancestor Buried?

There's nothing wrong with using the BIG cemetery websites but don't forget that they all rely on volunteers, so they may not have what you need. Other volunteer projects might be focused on the history of that locale, have access to historical materials, or conducted transcriptions earlier before destruction to a gravestone made it impossible to read or view. If you don't initially find what you need, remember to check older websites to exhaust your online search. 


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Learning from Others

Learning from Others

The other day I presented a lecture on searching newspaper websites. During my hour-long presentation, I discussed different tips and methods for using digitized newspaper search engines. I talked about tools that these websites provide that filter results to reveal relevant hits. All of the information I presented was vital to understanding how to use digitized newspaper websites for genealogy research. But, even after all the techniques, I discussed there was one thing I left out—the importance of learning from other genealogist’s experiences.

Can Anyone Help?

The great thing about genealogy in an age of technology and massive amounts of online information is that genealogists, whether researching for clients or themselves, utilize social media, blogs, and websites to document their research experience. Their articles and posts include what they found or didn’t find, as they review the steps and tips they use to search genealogy search engines.

One example of a free newspaper website is Fulton History (also known as Old Fulton Postcards). This free digitized newspaper website provides various search options beyond just entering a name in a search engine. Options include using stemming, fuzzy searches, and synonyms that help you expand your search and find ancestors even if their names are misspelled.

As I searched for more information about the Fulton website, I noticed blog posts that described users' search experiences. For example, Cliff Lamere's web page titled Using the Fulton History Newspaper Site provides some valuable tips, including how to adjust for OCR errors. Vital information for searching any digitized newspaper website.

The Genealogical Society of Bergen County's web page provides information about Boolean searches as well as proximity searches. Once again, helpful for the Fulton website but also significant when searching others.

Look for Help Outside of the Website

Genealogy relevant websites provide FAQs and educational tutorials to help their users make the most of their search. However, there is a benefit to learning from the experiences of independent users who have navigated the website successfully and make that information available online. By conducting a Google search with the name of the website or database, joining a Facebook group for website users, or asking other genealogists via your social media web page, at a genealogy event, or in a genealogy society, you may learn more about how to search a website successfully.

That's the type of information we all need to find our ancestors in online databases.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


How Do You Make Family History Interesting?

How Do You Make Family History Interesting?

I recently had a genealogist write to me about a dilemma that many of us face. He was the organizer of a recent church-sponsored event and wondered how to make family history interesting to the community. He had suggested that maybe asking event participants to tell stories about their ancestors might help, but he wondered what other suggestions I had.

Good question. As the keepers of the family history, we are charged with not only remembering our ancestors but making their stories available and accessible. But this can be a challenging task. After all, not everyone likes history, let alone family history.

The idea of storytelling, which has been stressed in the last decade or so in the family history world, is good. After all, everyone likes a good story. Making family history less about words and numbers on a chart and more illustrative is vital.

I’ve had this issue of making family history interesting come up anytime I’ve been asked to teach family history to a non-family history group such as the Boy Scouts or church groups. How do you get people interested in family history? How do you get your family interested in their family history? (which can be just as challenging.) When I brainstorm how to do this, I think in terms of types of activities, games, art, interviews, food, and technology. Yes, giving a talk is an obvious way to teach family history to those not initiated into our pursuit, but what other ways can you interest people of all ages?

Some ideas I have are:

Games: Cards with an ancestor’s names/bio on them, Family history inspired bingo cards, scavenger hunts.

Art: Large family history wallcharts and markers to color branches, add information and drawings. Family history inspired decorations, photo albums, coloring books made from family photos.

Interviews: Offering the space and equipment to allow people to interview family. Include prepared questions to help get the conversation going. Also, encourage individuals (even children) to tell their stories and document their lives.

Food: Let's face it, we all eat, so sponsor a potluck, food contest, or a bakeoff using ancestral recipes. Teach participants how to create a family cookbook, pass out recipe cards, swap family recipes, and offer cooking lessons with grandma.

Tech Center: Have computers set up and teach how to find a relative in the 1940 census. Make available pedigree charts, family group records, and blank census forms. Hold contests for the most exciting occupation, the most family members in the same household, or the youngest/oldest family member in the 1940 census.

I believe that people like not just to hear stories; they want to see images, interact, and try something new. Engaging in only storytelling can be difficult, so having a variety of activities, whether a community event, a family reunion, or Thanksgiving, can be helpful.

So readers, what do you suggest? I want to hear your ideas about how do you make family history "fun" for the non-genealogist? 


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Your Ancestor’s Many Names

Your Ancestor’s Many Names

This is not a blog post about cookbooks or food history. But it does use a cookbook as an example.

This is a blog post with an important search reminder. That reminder is: You need to search for your ancestor using more than one name for that ancestor.

Whenever I give presentations, I stress the importance of searching websites using name variations for an ancestor. These name variations could include initials, creative spellings (misspellings), abbreviations, and nicknames. If it is a married female ancestor, you must consider not only her birth name but also variations of her husband's name/s. During certain time periods women, but not all women worldwide, went by Mrs. [his name].

Sometimes as we search one database or record set and find our ancestor, we assume that’s it and there’s no need to continue our search. After all, we found what we need. But in reality, when we think of a database that contains something like court records or historical newspapers, it’s possible that our ancestor could be mentioned more than once and in different ways.

A cookbook that I’m studying reinforced the need for exhaustive searching when we conduct genealogy searches. The 1916 Eastern Star Cookbook from Huntington Park, California includes the names of women and men who contributed recipes.

As I went through the cookbook, I noticed that some women were mentioned multiple times and by different versions of her name.

Consider recipes submitted under these names:

  • Laura Brewer
  • Laura M Brewer
  • Miss Brewer

Now Laura and Laura M might very well be the same woman or it could be two different women. Miss Brewer is still a possibility for Laura. But I would need to research all three to verify. If it’s not the same woman, it could be a relative. That too would need to be further researched.


One woman is listed four different ways in this cookbook:

  • Ollie Cowdin
  • Ollie I. Cowdin
  • Mrs. Ollie Cowdin
  • O. C.

One name variation that is missing is her husband’s name, Mrs. [His name] Cowdin. Now if I were to continue this research on a genealogy website, I would also want to search for her using these and her other name variations based on her maiden name.


Why does this cookbook example matter? Although most of us for the most part go by one name throughout our lives we need to consider that a name can appear in any number of ways for various reasons or no reason at all. Taking that into consideration, we need to keep a list of name variations for our ancestors and use that to search for them in genealogically relevant records.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


5 Online Genealogy Freebies You’re Missing

5 Online Genealogy Freebies You’re Missing

There is no doubt that genealogists like free stuff. While not everything is free in genealogy (nor should it be), you can access some excellent guides, articles, and other genealogically relevant items at no cost.

Aside from free genealogy websites, there are other freebies that you can download or view online to enhance your genealogical education or provide tips and resources to find that brick-wall ancestor. Most of us are familiar with free websites such as Cyndi’s List and Linkpendium but what else is out there that you might not have considered? Here are a few items I’ve found that you might want to bookmark.

1. The National Genealogical Society Free Resources



Are you a member of NGS (the National Genealogical Society)? If you are, you know that they provide membership benefits including their publications. But do they offer anything for free to the genealogy community? Yes! And those free resources benefit all genealogists. First, go to their webpage, Free Genealogy Resources. Two items to pay special attention to are the NGS Magazine Complimentary Articles and the NGS Monthly Complimentary Articles. These articles can help you with everything from research methodology to learning more about reading an NGSQ article.

2. The Ancestor Hunt QuickSheets

Ancestor hunt

The Ancestor Hunt is a great place to find links to online newspapers, but in actuality, the man behind the website, Kenneth R Marks, offers more than just links and videos about newspapers. Check out his Quick Reference Guide link for "quicksheets" on genealogical records such as probate, pensions, naturalization, and cemetery records, to name a few, as well as lots of historical newspaper information. He currently has 40 of these guides to help you with your genealogy.

3. The National Archives Palaeography Tutorials


One aspect of research that can be difficult is reading older handwriting. If this is one of your stumbling blocks, you'll want to check out the National Archives (UK)'s palaeography tutorials. Their webpage explains that “This web tutorial will help you learn to read the handwriting found in documents written in English between 1500 and 1800." Tips, tutorials, practice documents, and reference sheets for money and measurements make this a must-have for genealogists.

4. PhotoTree One-page Guides


Have vintage photos that you are trying to date? Not sure if they show great-grandma or her mother? PhotoTree.com's Identifying Photographic Types webpage includes 1-page guides to identify 19th-century photographs. Scroll down to the Photograph Characteristics section and click on the photograph type to learn more. This page with information about Daguerreotypes includes the various components of the framed photo so that you can understand everything about it, including what you can’t see in the photograph case.

5. The Newberry Library Research Guides


Make sure to check library websites for guides that can benefit your research—case in point, Chicago's Newberry Library's Research Guides. Although the library is in Chicago, these guides are a variety of genealogically relevant topics from Adoption records to Catalog Search Strategies, Germanic Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, and Royal Lines. Most likely, a search through the approximately 80 guides will reveal at least one guide you could use to enhance your research.

Yes, there's no such thing as a free lunch, but some generous genealogists and organizations provide free content that benefits the genealogy community. These five examples are just a few to explore.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Learning More About Genealogy Sources via Historical Fiction

Learning More About Genealogy Sources via Historical Fiction

I am a big fan of historical fiction stories set in the 19th or 20th centuries. I think the way that the authors incorporate historical research with invented dialogue can teach us as family historians interesting ways to tell our ancestor’s stories.

These historical fiction accounts might also uncover genealogically rich sources that we hadn’t considered before. Most of these novels have been researched by using genealogical databases and historical newspapers. In some cases, they are inspired by a specific source. That’s the case with the book, The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate.

The inspiration for this novel comes from “lost friends” advertisements placed after the American Civil War. These advertisements were placed by the formerly enslaved who were looking for family members that they had been separated from, hoping to reunite their families.

Lost Friends 3

From https://www.hnoc.org/database/lost-friends/index.html

These advertisements appeared in various newspapers but The Book of Lost Friends is based on one newspaper, in particular, the Southwestern Christian Advocate. According to the book,

In their heyday, the Lost Friends ads, published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a Methodist newspaper, went out to nearly five hundred preachers, eight hundred post offices, and more than four thousand subscription holders [in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas]. The column header requested that pastors read the contents from their pulpits to spread the word of those seeking the missing.

The newspaper encouraged those that had found family via the advertisements to report back. As Lisa Wingate writes, these advertisements “were the equivalent of an ingenious nineteenth-century social media platform.”[1]

Lost Friends 1
The author was introduced to the Lost Friends ads via the Historic New Orleans Collection which hosts a searchable database of the ads with digitized copies courtesy of the Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Libraries. The database introduction explains that it includes 2,500 advertisements that appeared in the newspaper between November 1879 to December 1900. Researchers can search the database (https://www.hnoc.org/database/lost-friends/search.php) by name, year, or location.

Lost friends 2

For those interested in reading the Southwestern Christian Advocate, it can be found online via the institutional subscription newspaper databases offered by Gale. To learn more, see the Library of Congress Chronicling America’s newspaper directory.


[1] Wingate, Lisa. The Book of Lost Friends. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2021)p. 378. Additional information about subscribers comes from the database homepage at https://www.hnoc.org/database/lost-friends/index.html.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


How To Read


I know you read the title of this blog article and probably rolled your eyes. After all, most likely, you know how to read, and you might do a lot of reading. I know that, but much of what we need to read for genealogy requires more than a mere skim. It requires an in-depth study of the materials.

Maybe the better question for me to ask is, “how do you read?”


Now I know this subject might seem odd for me to write about. However, I think we have all faced times when we let our minds wander while reading or where we just couldn’t understand the point of the text. I think this often happens because we treat reading as a “passive” pursuit instead of actively engaging with what we are reading. When we actively read, we engage with the text and ask questions, make notes, and maybe even look up facts or sources. When reading non-fiction for genealogy (books, journal articles, thesis, dissertations), you must do more than just “read” the text.

Gather your Tools

Yes, reading requires tools besides your reading glasses and the material you are reading. When I read, I have a highlighter, a pencil or pen (I prefer those pens with five different colored inks), and post-it notes (tabs or notes, whichever you prefer).

True confession time. Yes, I write in my books.


Now, obviously, I don’t do this to library books or books I borrow from friends. But if it’s my book and I own it, it’s fair game. After all, it’s MY book. Since childhood, we are taught “don’t write in books” “don’t dog-ear pages in books.” All good advice for borrowed books or the family heirloom book in your home, but it doesn’t matter for others.

If you can’t bring yourself to do this, they sell clear post-it notes that you can write or highlight. That might be an option. Other types of bookmarks (such as metal book darts) might be an answer for “marking” what you read. You can also choose to take notes in a notebook or via a computer program. 


You Don't Always Have to Read from the Begining to the End 

Aside from not writing in our books, we are also taught to read consecutively from page one to the end. Some readers find sections of a book optional, such as the introduction, acknowledgments, or index. When in reality, depending on the work, you may be better off skipping around a bit. You may be able to skip around to chapters that have more to do with what you’re interested in.

I recommended that if you’re reading a journal article such as NGSQ or the NEHGS Register, don’t read the article from start to finish. Instead, read the introduction and the conclusion. This tells you what the author sought to do and what they did. Now read the author bio. What is their background? This tells you something about where they’re coming from, their experience, or their take on things. An author who worked as a scientist will address a problem slightly differently than one who spent a career as an artist. Now, finally, read the footnotes or endnotes. Why? Read more about this below.

Study the Footnotes/Endnotes

I admit it, one of my favorite parts of a non-fiction narrative is the footnotes/endnotes. These are the part of the text that tells you the extra. It’s like frosting on a cake. Cake is good, but frosting makes it better.

Footnotes/endnotes provide additional information that may not go into the body of the text but are an important aside. They tell you about the quality of the research. From these source citations, you can see what the author looked at and, even more importantly, what they missed. These sources are additional resources for you to discover that might inform your research.

Related to the footnotes/endnotes is a bibliography. I go through the bibliography, highlight the books I need, and place a checkmark to the left of those I already own. When I was in graduate school, we loved bibliographies because they help us identify what scholarship is already out there on a topic. The same is true for genealogy. A good bibliography can help me learn more about a family, a place, or an ancestor’s life.


One of the techniques my high school-age kids learned in their English class was to annotate what they were reading. They were to take notes in the margins of their books, with the end goal being that when they later flipped through the book and read their notes, they would remember what the book was about. It’s sort of like your own personal Cliff Notes of the book.

So as you read, take time to annotate. Highlight text, underline words or sentences and make notes in the margins. Interact with the text, don’t just passively read it. Active reading will help you learn and retain more.

How Do You Read?

You’ve now heard what I think about reading. There are articles and books about how to be a better reader than you may want to explore. The article Getting the Most from Case Studies in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly by Thomas W. Jones helps to break down how to read a peer-reviewed journal article which is very different than a popular magazine article. You might also be interested in the blog post, Eight Tips for Deconstructing an NGSQ Case Study by Melissa Johnson. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J Adler and Charles Van Doren explains strategies for reading various types of books.

Let me know in the comments how you tackle what you need to read.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Introducing the Second Largest Genealogy Collection in the United States

Summer Research Trip: Allen County Public Library

You already know the one library that immediately comes to mind when we think about genealogical research - the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. But do you know about the second largest genealogy collection in the United States?

My first visit to this collection was this month, and now I'm wondering why I waited so long. The library with that collection, the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is worth your time no matter what location your research is focused on.

First, let me introduce you to this library. According to the FamilySearch Research Wiki, "Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center is the second largest genealogy research collection in the United States and the largest in a public library."[1] The collection includes books, periodicals, microforms, and subscription and local databases. Allen County Public Library's (ACPL) materials are available on Internet Archive and FamilySearch and the ACPL website through a digitization effort. It may seem strange to think about traveling to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to do genealogical research. Still, through the vision of a previous library director, the idea of serving genealogists grew to include this vital collection.

Gena Philibert-Ortega and ACPL Genealogy Manager Curt Witcher
Gena Philibert-Ortega and ACPL Genealogy Manager Curt Witcher

I talked to current Genealogy Center Manager Curt Witcher about this important collection and asked him the question that maybe you were thinking. "Why should people come to Fort Wayne to research?" Genealogy Center Manager Curt Witcher says that it should be your genealogical research designation for three reasons:

  1. An extensive printed collection
  2. Databases
  3. Excited, experienced staff

There's no doubt that Allen County has an extensive printed collection. You can see that as you walk around their location on thesecond story which includes moveable bookcases to make room for all that material. It's easy to dismiss a physical library when so much material is available online. Witcher stressed that although they are actively digitizing content, a large part of the collection is protected by copyright, so in order to research it, you would have to view it in person.


Like other libraries you may visit, the Allen County Public Library has databases, some for on-site use, and others available to anyone. While I usually head straight to subscription databases when I go to a library to research, in this case, I was especially interested in the databases ACPL created that are free for all. From the ACPL website, go to Explore Genealogy > Our Resources to explore both free and on-site databases. Of the free databases, the web page explains: "The Free Databases have been compiled by the library and its various volunteer corps or have been given to The Center to post on the web for free use by all. Each database can be searched separately. "What are these databases? A few include:[2]

  • Microtext Catalog: A searchable listing of microfilm and microfiche available at The Genealogy Center.
  • African American Gateway: Includes information from the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, and well as a few other countries. The links to websites in this gateway are paired with a bibliography of resources for African American research in The Genealogy Center collection.
  • Family Bible Records: Features transcriptions and images from family bibles donated to The Genealogy Center. Details include births, marriages, and deaths, as well as information from items inserted in the Bibles, such as newspaper clippings, photographs, and funeral cards.
  • Family Resources: Unique family histories and family files submitted by researchers who have granted permission for their material to be hosted on The Genealogy Center website.
  • Genealogy Center Surname File: The file can be searched to identify others researching your same surname. Contact information is provided to encourage collaboration. Contributors to this file are Genealogy Center patrons.
  • Native American Gateway: A resource for those exploring First Nations family history. Information on how to begin such research, links to materials from the National Archives and links to popular data are complemented by a continually updated listing of resources held by The Genealogy Center.

Curt Witcher's last reason for researching at the Genealogy Center was the "excited, experienced staff." The librarians at Allen County Public Library know genealogy. They are there to help you find a resource, provide help to answer research questions or even the best place to eat for lunch. Their support allowed me to utilize the library better and to find what I needed. Librarians are an essential asset to any research project, and there is no doubt that ACPL librarians are experts in genealogy and their collection.

Where else can you find ACPL content? The Genealogy Center is working hard to add digitized content online. Digitizing efforts via Internet Archive and FamilySearch focus on materials such as family histories, school newspapers, and manuscript collections not otherwise available. Allen County Public Libary digitized items in partnership with Internet Archive can be found on that website. You can also view ACPL's digitized items on the FamilySearch Digital Library. You can search the Digital Library's entire collection or just items from Allen County Public Library.


I asked Curt Witcher what tip he had for those planning a trip to the ACPL. His response was one that isn't a surprise but is crucial to making the most of your trip, "visit ACPL virtually before you visit physically." Curt added that you'll have a better in-person experience if you come to the library prepared than if you don't. I couldn't agree more. The ACPL website provides ways to plan your visit, from exploring the card catalog, exhausting online sources, and watching videos that answer questions about researching at the Genealogy Center. Don't forget to peruse the online collections at FamilySearch and Internet Archive so that you aren't traveling to view something available and downloadable online. I agree with Curt, but I also want to add that you should speak to a librarian as soon as you arrive at the Genealogy Center. You will find things so much more quickly once you receive a map and location guide for the collection.

I think the one crucial take-away I had from researching at the ACPL was that their collection is "Not an Indiana collection." Yes, they have a lot of Indiana resources, after all, they are located in Indiana. But they have so much more. The majority of the collection focuses on the British Isles and North America, but they continue to add materials that cover other locations. One of the newest additions to their collection is South African materials, thanks to a new benefactor.

During our interview, Curt Witcher kept saying, "everybody has a story." It was apparent that he believed that our work as family historians involves documenting that story, no matter what it is. The ACPL is a place to do that and I look forward to returning.

[1] "United States Archives and Libraries," FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/United_States_Archives_and_Libraries: accessed 10 August 2021).

[2] "Free Databases," ACPL Genealogy Center (https://acpl.lib.in.us/explore-genealogy/our-resources: accessed 10 August 2021).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.