Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Feature Post #40 Answering Family History Enquiries 101

Our guest post on this month’s topic is by Penny Allen. Follow her on twitter at @cdnlocgen

Penny came to the UK in 2012 and has worked as a librarian in London in the heritage sector and has previously worked in public libraries in Canada particularly in a rural setting. A Canadian, she has experience doing her own family history research since the 1980s and providing family history services in libraries since 2004.  She has been a member of the CILIP Local Studies Group for 4 years.

She will be joining in with our chat on Tuesday 6 December which will also be discussing the related field of local history. If you want to add your own questions to the Family and Local History agenda, it’s now available.

Quietly working at the information desk, a customer hesitantly approaches.  “Excuse me, I don’t want to bother you, and this may seem like a silly question, but can you tell me how do I start my family history?” Or: “My great-grandfather fought in the First World War. Where is all of his service history?” And the best one: “Where is the book with all of my family’s history in it?”

Eyes wide, you frantically reach for the nearest print reference that explains everything, point by point about how to do genealogy research. “Here it is – the book that will explain all you ever need to know, from start to finish.” (Sorry my librarian colleagues, but that magical book just does not exist – however, see the Bibliography for help.)

Take a deep breath, and read on. Genealogists are of three camps, the absolute newbies who are thrilled by any suggestions you provide; the internet genealogists who say they can’t find anything on the ‘net; and seasoned genealogists who have been researching for years and are interested in your knowledge of the unique and local resources that they may have overlooked.

The best tools that you can gather for this very unique and specialized group of researchers are very basic. Using the skills you learned in Masters of Library Science Reference 101, public service skills are paramount. Positive body language is very important, use of lots of eye contact, a genuine response and eagerness to help. Personally, my goal is to make sure that the customer leaves with something – a print resource, a reference and most importantly, a positive experience. This is a very personal quest to the customer and often they will attempt to share their ancestry, branch by branch!  But you may exclaim, “But I know nothing about genealogy!”

Here are some tried and true tips for genealogy resources. The best tools are the ‘research guides’ you can find on many family history society websites, National Archives, large County Council Library or Public Library websites. These I would consider a quick reference tool. Building up your knowledge of local resources, such as: maps, directories, BMDs or vital statistics and censuses will be a great help. Having a few basic core genealogy titles in your collections are also helpful to hand over to the researcher. Examples are: Easy Family History : The Beginner’s Guide to Starting Your Research by David Annal. Tracing Your Family History on the Internet : a guide for Family Historians by Chris Paton. The Family History Web Directory : the genealogical websites you can’t do without by Jonathan Scott.

In addition to the basics of Ref 101, here a few questions to ask your customer.

  • How much time do you have (to spend in the library)?
  • What or where have you researched? (Which websites, archives, books have you used?)
  • Have you considered looking for specific resources at these specialist libraries or archives?
  • Have you used Boolean searching when searching the internet, ie: quotation marks/inverted commas or parentheses?
  • Ask your customer if they are aware of blogs, mail lists, or websites that list genealogy websites.
  • Are they on Facebook or Twitter? Social media has many very active genealogists.

If you are keen to learn more about how to provide genealogy services in your library, here are some recommended official organizations:

  • IFLA – HQ: The Hague, Netherlands – The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It is the global voice of the library and information profession. – GENLOC The Genealogy and Local History Section aims to provide a voice for genealogy and local history librarians in the international information community, to facilitate networking among subject specialists and libraries, archives, museums, and related societies and institutions, and to encourage the development of genealogy and local history collections and user services.
  • CILIP LSG – London, UK – Chartered Institute of Library Information Professionals – Local Studies Group – We support people working in local studies librarianship by promoting standards, lobbying, discussing matters of interest in The Local Studies Librarian and in our electronic newsletter, holding meetings, workshops and conferences through our regional network.
  • ALA RUSA – Chicago, IL – The American Library AssociationReference and User Services AssociationHistory Section – The History Section represents the subject interests of reference librarians, archivists, bibliographers, genealogists, historians, and others engaged in historical reference or research. It brings together representatives of history collections in all formats from all types of libraries, archives, and historical societies.
  • Canada – The Ontario Library Association Partnership occasionally provides Genealogy courses for Librarians.

Whether or not you are a genealogy enthusiast, using your tried and tested librarian skills you can find the resources to support local and family history enquiries.


About gabyklib

Gaby has been a librarian in a public library in the UK since 2004. Her current role is covers working with all library customers through project work, reports, outreach and promotion including website maintenance and social media. Previously she was a children's librarian with particular focus on Teens.

2 comments on “Feature Post #40 Answering Family History Enquiries 101

  1. Pingback: #uklibchat Tuesday 6 December 2016, 18:30 – 20:30 Supporting Local and Family History Enquiries | #uklibchat

  2. Pingback: Family History Librarians Twitter Chat | Canadian Genealogy & Local History Librarians

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This entry was posted on November 29, 2016 by in Feature and tagged , , , , .


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