Research Offline Genealogy Records – Even If You Cannot Travel!
Are you searching for your ancestors in offline genealogy records? It’s tough!
You have heard it before – Not all (actually, MOST) genealogy records are not online. Despite the rapid addition of genealogy records to the internet, neglecting to research offline genealogy records for our ancestors is a mistake.
For instance, tax records are among some of my favorite records to research, but they frequently are not online. (I don’t like paying taxes, but I love the records they generate!)
Guardianship records, merchant records and other “out of the genealogy box” records” are records that are useful in tracking down an elusive ancestor. Again, these great genealogy resources are often not online.
Unfortunately, those records seem to be where I am not.
Traveling to multiple repositories is time consuming and expensive and just not always possible.
Is it possible to research offline genealogy records from home or at least without leaving town? YES!
10 Tips To Research Offline Genealogy Records
Networking Genealogy Style
Most of us are familiar with networking within our professional lives. Making connections and building relationships within your profession helps you to be successful in finding new clients, growing a business and reaching your professional goals.
That same networking concept applies in genealogy research. Build relationships with fellow researchers in areas where your ancestors lived and you need to research. (Of course, reciprocate for others who need help in your location!)
1.Post a query in online genealogy forums or message boards. Find message boards on Ancestry.com and GenForum. Search for a location based forums or Facebook groups and post your question there. Some genealogical societies have message boards on their sites open to both members and non-members.
2.Contact a state and/or local genealogy society. Often local genealogy societies have members who are willing to do look-ups for out of town researchers. Local genealogy society can also have unusual and interesting records on families in their area. Ask what they have in their collections! I have found everything from church directories/minutes to other genealogists’ research notes.
3.Talk to the local public librarian. Give the local library a phone call. Librarians are fantastic resources for genealogists and are very familiar with the types of resources their county may have. Additionally, many libraries have an section devoted to local history. I’ve found many great resources on these shelves including county histories and family histories. The librarian can help set up an inter-library loan if needed. I found photos of my ancestors in one such family history book on a library shelf.
[It’s hard to do the genealogy happy dance quietly!]
Librarians also know with whom you should talk in the community for more information.
4.Talk to the county clerk’s office in the county you are researching. Staff can tell you what they have and do not have at the courthouse. Sometimes, older records may have been transferred to a state archives and the originals are not kept in the courthouse. Staff in more rural courthouses tend to “know everybody”. Make friends and see who they recommend you talk to.
5. Always ask “Who else do you think I should talk to?”. Never leave a genealogy conversation without asking this question. Remember … Network, network, network.
Old School Genealogy – Microfilm
I just have to ask. Does anyone else get motion sick reading microfilm? Okay, that might be more than you want to know about me. 🙂
Microfilm was a mainstay in the genealogist’s research before we had home computers. While we do not use microfilm as often, it still is important for many types of records.
6. Ask for an Inter-library Loan. Talk with your librarian about how to find and request your needed records.
7. Search WorldCat. – Search for family history books, collections of family papers, microfilm and just about anything you can think of. You may find a library or repository close to your location with a copy. Many are available for inter-library loan.
Get Your Free Copy of The Big Genie List
The Big Genie List is full of resources, databases and educational opportunities to assist you in your search to find your ancestors.
When you grab your copy , you will also receive the weekly Are You My Cousin? emails. Enjoy!
Other Options for Offline Genealogy Records
8. Ask for help on Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness (ROGK) – ROGK is a great resource for genealogists. Volunteers perform look ups for individuals who do not have easy access to the records in their area. You do need to sign in and after that, you are set to search for a volunteer in the location you are researching. Be sure and read their guidelines before you get started. Consider becoming a volunteer yourself!
9. Research at a FamilySearch Library or Affiliate Library near you. Here you will be able to view digital records not available for online viewing at home. Find a Family History Center here.
10. Hire a professional genealogist – Hiring a professional is sometimes the best way to get the records you need searched and an analysis of what is found (or not found). I recommend using a genealogist who is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. APG members adhere to a certain code of ethics in their businesses. State archives will often have a list of professional genealogists who specialize in their state records. (And if you need help in North Carolina or Virginia, visit my research services page.)
Just because you cannot go to the location of your ancestors to perform research, does not mean you have no options for research. Be creative in seeking offline genealogy records. You just might be at what you find!
You might also be interested in these related posts:
- 6 “Out of the Box” Genealogy Resources
- How To Perform Your Genealogy Searches More Successfully
- How to Be Cost Effective When Researching Genealogy
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Mary Jo Vepley
Hate to complain, but sure wish you’d use “regular” print for this site. I have eye issues and can barely read any of the text due to lack of contrast and the extremely fine lines of the font itself. Have a little consideration for those of us with failing eyesight, a thing I never worried about when I was young … never through I’d be in this predicament … still trying to do my genealogy and dealing with diminished eyesight. Your choice of fonts and colors is limiting what I can gain from reading what you wish to share. : – (
Mary Jo, You will be glad to know that is something I am working to fix. New easier to read fonts are coming!
Linda G Holland
I am tring to verify who my mother’s mother was. Can not find any record of her birthcerticate anywhere i was told she was borned.
Depending on the birth date, it’s possible one was not issued. Try one of the alternative vital records sources in this post: https://lisalisson.com/alternatives-to-vital-records/
Yes, I get motion sickness when searching microfilm too.!
I have to take frequent breaks to avoid it. 🙂
Me too, but I fight through it for an hour or two and then it eases up. If I happen to be spending more than one day, as researching in SLC, I’m fine for the rest of my stay.
Read a screen at a time. When finished, look away from the screen and page down.
Hello, Lisa hopefully you can help me or direct me. I have a membership with Ancestry.com. Every time I find or get a hint about one of my ancestry’s social security number, or marriage license, or birth certificate or even a death certificate there is never an image or an area you can click on to see the image. I do report it to Ancestry; but still no image — nothing. Very frustrating and upsetting. What else can I do?
Yikes, that is a problem. Start here at the trouble shooting page on Ancestry: https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/Troubleshooting-Problems-on-Ancestry#pages . If nothing there resolves the problem, contact them through the contact button at the bottom of that page.
On the comment of not having a document or something to look at when a hint on Ancestry comes up it is because the item or items have just been indexed and not photographed yet. Indexing is pushing research much farther ahead than before, they have the record it can be read and information posted in the indexing card but it takes quite a bit to get these records visually researchable. They will come.
Someone who is doing genealogy research, and who is also are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, should talk to their family history consultant. Each ward usually has one. Also for members of the Church, Ancestry and My Heritage memberships are free. This is something a family history consultant can help with.
Excellent advice, Mary!
I heard some where that there are Apps for Genealogy. I have WIN10 and looked in the App Store but could not fine any. Do you know of any Apps for Genealogy?
Bill, I use a variety of smartphone apps for genealogy research. You can find some those in this post: 6 Smartphone Apps To Keep Your Genealogy Organized. I use them on my laptop as well.
Want to point out that it is not necessary to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints to access records on Family Search. It is open to every who signs up.
Thank you, Marion, for pointing this out. The LDS church is very open and supportive of all researchers.
I noticed that the Carthage, MO courthouse is in the background of your title. One of my favorite historical buildings! I grew up there. Do they have records there???
Michelle, I do not know what type of records they have there. That was likely a stock image that I used.
# 8 on your 10 ways to find gnealogy info wihot travel should read RAOGK
Ancestry has ThruLines to one of my ancestors (1764-1825). His father is listed on Ancestry as “a mullatto”. His grandfather is listed as American Indian and has a son listed as American Indian so I assume the “mullatto” is American Indian in Virginia. Do you know of any place I can go to find if there is a record of American Indians in old Virginia? Oh, yes, Native American did not show up in either my DNA or my first Cousin’s DNA so this may be a ‘miss’ on Ancestry’s part.
It could be a miss on Ancestry’s part, but since we only inherit ~50% DNA from each parent, this Native American DNA may have made it’s way down to you. As far as “mullatto”, this was done by visual inspection by the census taker. Reach out to the Library of Virginia and talk with one of their staff for the best way to research Native Americans in VA.
Cheryl Lynn Bohn
Hi, I enjoyed this article, as well as many others you have created. You pair your knowledge and experience with energy and curiosity in order to write these great, timely pieces.
I have two challenges and wonder if you might be able to offer suggestions:
1) My large, regional library Does Not Participate inthe Inter-Library Loan program.
It is inexplicable to me. Many academic institutions, libraries, and archives only offer copy service to my library–which does not participate. Do you have any workarounds for this situation, please?
2) I have a question about various FamilySearch libraries–am I correct in understanding that these local libraries may have retained copies of certain regional records, books, and microfilms?
If so, is there a way to find out what resources the individual libraries have on hand?
And, how might I borrow or get copies of these resources because I live out of state?
I am hoping that the Philadelphia area libraries might have info that is available nowhere else.
Thanks for sharing what you know with those of us who are still finding our way in the genealogy maze.
Hi, Cheryl, Yikes, no inter-library loan is a problem. If you are close enough to your state library, try and go through them. You might also check if you have or can get access to another county’s library and order through them. Good luck!
FamilySearch libraries (local ones) do have some resources and records. I think they are usually microfilmed or microfiche. The best way to find out what they have is to give them a call or stop by. There is no database for that, I don’t think.
Love reading your articles. Have a question. My grandfather had a sister born in Zell am Mosel in Germany in 1870. She never came to America. The last information of her is she was living in Koeln Germany with her two daughters in1950. Do you have any suggestions how I can find further information about her or her daughters or her decendants. Thank you for any help you can give me. Maxine Schmieler Miller.
I enjoyed reading about finding divorce records. I began researching long before computers were readily available… microfilms: a way of life. In the late ’80s, I was traveling to Wisconsin from northwest Nebraska. I had just enter Iowa when I began seeing signs of being in Harlan, Iowa. Something in me stirred a bit and I found myself at a rest stop near there. I went to the trunk of the car where keep genealogy files to areas I’m happening to drive through. There was material on my paternal great grandfather Acker. He was married 3 times. His first wife had his first 3 children, his 2nd had my grandmother and the 3rd Han another son. Family “gossip” suggested that the 1st marriage didn’t end well. I was looking for both marriage and divorce (or death) records to find what the story was really about. I hit the jackpot on land records giving my dates before, during, and after the first marriage. The records also gave me my 2nd great grandparents names. What I could not find any divorce record. I had a copy of their 1900 census record which showed that my great grandfather was the head of the house, his wife and the 2 female children. But, over the years it didn’t seem like this could be right. I reviewed other records and it was clear that he had been at least a relationship with my great grandmother before the year 1900. Something told me that I should check the NE census records (1900) and I was shocked. He was listed as the head of the household with my great grandmother and my grandmother. I’ve communicated with some of the cousins of the 1st wife’s offspring. They believe that their great grandmother was to embarrassed to say she was divorced and just had them put him down as if they were still married. I have yet to find any evidence of a divorce, legal separation or just walking out on his first family. But, I haven’t given up. Mysteries like this keep me fascinated and alive.
Unrelated to divorce records, I had another strange experience with the census. I was really looking forward for the 1950 records to become available. When I first learn of them being out I looked up my family. 1950 was the year I was born. I was anxious to see my name on it. At first glance, Mom, Dad and my older sister and brother were there, but my name was not. I thought that cannot be right. A careful search gave way to my name having been written down, then crossed down and the head of the family next door, had been written over my name. My birth month and age were not crossed out. The head of family next door’s birth month and age were listed above mine. Later, I’ve learned that children born before April 1st are put on the census records, those born after are not.. My birthday was the 4th of April.
At this point there is no question for you, but thank you for your guidance given while sharing your knowledge and experiences with us. They are always well thought out and topics seem to be always on point. Thank you so much. Zuladawn,