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Family History Overview: Step 2: Prepare for library visit

Step 2: Prepare for Your Visit to the Library

After searching your files, it is time to start your Library research.  But before you do that....Make a list of what you want to find out.  Note when and where your ancestors lived in Minnesota.  

Depending upon your family, a trip to the Minnesota Historical Society's Library might include checking state census recordsdeath certificatesbirth certificates, or newspaper obituaries. (The Library also provides research services for those who can't come to the Library.)

Before you arrive at the Library: Set priorities. Zero in on a particular person and event. Then ask yourself, what information do you need?

For example, you  want to find out where Grandpa was born. You know he was 90 when he died in 1976.

You need to determine: What type of record can provide that information?  Where can you  find this record?

A logical place to start would be to check  for a death certificate. These records often include other useful information as well such as the date and place of birth, mother's maiden name, name of informant (often a relative), and cause(s) of death.  Armed with the date and place of death you can then search for an obituary which can provide details about the individual's family and life (particularly in a small town newspaper).

You can learn about the MNHS library and how it operates before coming to the library though our Using the Library guide. 

Online Resources

There are many resources that can now be found online. Popular websites such as  or can be very useful tools in your research. The Library provides free access to the Ancestry website when at the Library and FamilySearch is always "free" online. 

Many researchers come to the internet with the anticipation that they can type a few key words and find their ancestral charts and family group sheets all completed. While the lucky few may be so fortunate, most researchers will need to spend hours researching. Strategies and tactics may change, but the basic principles of research,  analysis, evaluation, and documentation remain constant. Researchers need to recognize that family history on the web can be as fun and as complicated as family history with the original sources.

While some information on the web still consists of information about records, more and more digital images of original records are being posted as well.  Researchers should continue to evaluate the trustworthiness of indexes, transcriptions, and similar data just as they would for the original record.  As with other types of research, family historians should be ready to verify data with the original sources.

In addition, researchers may need to adopt new or revised research methods. Because family history sites and library/archives catalogs are being updated and augmented constantly, it is necessary to revisit certain sites on a regular basis. What was not available in electronic form before may now be accessible. 

Finally, the web holds unique opportunities to make an individual's family history research results available on his or her home page or on the pages of firms that specialize in hosting family histories, ancestral and descendancy charts, and related research queries. and both offer information on searching  their websites and getting started in your family history search.  

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Gale Family Library • Minnesota Historical Society • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300
Tuesday: 9am to 8pm • Wed. to Sat.: 9am to 4pm • Sunday & Monday: Closed • Holiday Hours