2 Great Ways to Research Your Family's Background

Genealogy is a very popular topic, as evidenced by the popularity of TV shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Faces of America.  If you’re interested in tracing your family tree, we have two free quality resources – Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest.  You can access Ancestry from the Bossier Parish Library homepage on a library computer at any branch.  HeritageQuest is accessible from your home computer; you just need to enter your library card number.

Great Way #1: About Ancestry

Ancestry Library Edition is a fantastic tool for anyone who is researching family history.  With Ancestry, you will be able to search US federal censuses, the social security death index, military records, state censuses, immigration records with ship manifests, passport applications, birth and marriage records, and heaps of international sources, which come in handy once you are able to trace your ancestors back to a country of emigration.  You can also view and print images of the original records.  If you’re lucky, you might locate a forgotten picture – I was surprised to see a high school yearbook photo of my grandfather!

1910 census image from Ancestry, showing Amelia Earhart as a young girl in Iowa.
It’s very easy to start searching with Ancestry.  You simply type in any known information about the person you are trying to find.  If you don’t know the exact birth date or birthplace of an ancestor, take a guess.  If you heard family stories that Great Grandpa was born around the turn of the century, add 1900 to your search box.  Ancestry will use this information and give results that closely match your search items.  At the History Center, we recommend that beginners start by researching family members that they know personally.  Backtracking is easier to do; you simply follow the records, linking the people you do know to the mystery branches on your family tree.

One of the best sources of information on Ancestry is the US Census Collection.  US Federal Census records range from 1790 – 1930.  The 1940 census will be made public in 2012.  The information from each census varies slightly, depending on which questions were asked.  You will almost always find name, age, gender, race, marital status, nationality, and relationship to head of household.  You may also find occupation, real estate value, age at first marriage, birth month and year, education level, year of immigration, citizenship status, naturalization dates, and place of parents’ birth.

Great Way #2: About HeritageQuest

HeritageQuest (HQ) is another genealogy resource that provides census records and allows users to view, print, and download original images.  If you can’t get to the library to use Ancestry and want to do some genealogy detective work at home, HQ is your best bet.  It provides a collection of material for both genealogical and historical researchers, with coverage dating back to the late 1700s.

In the Books section of HQ, you can search through genealogy and local history books with digitized pages.  Use it to find published works on families, as well as historical books that focus on specific regions.  Learning about the time and place where your ancestors lived can give you a good sense of their daily life.  The Periodical Source Index (PERSI) on HQ is a comprehensive index to genealogy and local history periodicals.  For example, you can search through issues of The Genie, the journal of the Ark-la-Tex Genealogical Association.

There isn’t enough space to fully explain all of the resources you will find on both Ancestry and HeritageQuest, but it’s easy and fun to browse through their databases as you begin your genealogy journey.  I encourage you to take a peek into your family’s past if you haven’t started to already.  If you’d like some assistance, the staff at the History Center is always ready to help!

Marisa has been the Curator of Collections and Exhibits at the Historical Center since February 2009.  She creates exhibits that focus on Bossier Parish history and also cares for the archival collections.  She enjoys assisting patrons with their genealogical research and continues to search for her own family history.  You can contact her with your history or genealogy questions at mdiedric@state.lib.la.us    

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