Researching your family history

An unidentified man jumping off the high dive into one of the many lakes in Alachua County, FL.

Photos on this page are taken from the Alachua County Library District's online local history collection, the Heritage Collection. This page is also available as an 850 kb PDF file which prints in brochure format.

Want to know more about your family history, but not sure how to begin? With some help from the Alachua County Library District, here are some tips:

  1. Write down what you do know. You may be amazed at how much knowledge you already have about your family history—write it down! An easy way to do this is to fill out pedigree charts (also known as family tree charts) with information about you, your par-ents, and grandparents, if known. Another way to record your family history, known as family organizational charts, lets you list family members of a single generation—you can start with your own family to get started. These forms are available from our genealogy page and at any of our branch libraries.
  2. Ask family and friends who go way back. Talk to family members and family friends who may know a thing or two about your family history. Even if you're not sure they know, just ask—you may be surprised at how much they know! You'll want to write down what they tell you and/or record audiovisually on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
  3. Look through old family heirlooms, such as family Bibles, pictures, and original legal documents. Often, these hard copies are the only source of information about birth, marriage, or death records. Anything can potentially tell your family story.
    And, remember...
  4. RECORD EVERYTHING! Otherwise, it can be lost forever. Save it in more than one place—pen-and-paper notebooks, computer hard drives, thumb drives, "cloud" computing—to ensure that your family history is kept for succeeding generations.

Now that you've recorded what you know, it's time to see what resources the Alachua County Library District has to offer to help further your research.

Library Resources—Online

Visit our genealogy page for tips on how to get started with genealogical research as well as what online and print re-sources we offer. It's the one-stop research place for those who are interested in their family history.

We offer two databases specifically tailored for genealogical research:

  1. Ancestry Library Edition (available in-library use only) - offers a wealth of genealogical information from the US and Europe comparable to a paid subscription to Ancestry. It also has a Learning Center link on its main search page for links to helpful tutorials and research guides on many genealogical topics.
  2. Heritage Quest Online (available in-library use and from home with a library card) - has the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), an online index of genealogical articles, magazines, and published family histories from 1847 to the present. Also has Federal Census records through 1940, Freedmen's Bank records, and Revolutionary War Pen-sion records.

We also have an online collection of more than 1,000 local historical documents and pictures, the Heritage Collection. If your family has roots in Alachua County, you will want to use this resource to find out more about them.

Gainesville Public Library, 1920s-1950s
Alachua County Genealogical Society members at the Florida State Museum (now the Florida Museum of Natural History), Gainesville, 1980s

Library Resources—Print

Most genealogy print resources are available at the Headquarters Library, 401 E. University Avenue, Gainesville, in the Genealogy section of our Reference collection for in-library use only. However, we carry items for checkout as well. The majority of our materials cover Florida and the rest of the southeastern US but we also have items that cover other areas of the US and the world. The call number for genealogy is 929.

Selected Alachua County Library District print resources include (items available for checkout are linked to the catalog):

  1. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (REF-GEN 929.1072 SOU 2006) - This manual identifies published record groups available for genealogical research. Records are divided into three groups: (1) Major record sources (e.g.,cemetery, census, and church records); (2) Published sources (city directories, newspapers, family histo-ries); and (3) Special resources (immigration records and ethnic research).
  2. Who Do You Think You Are? The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History (929.1072 SMO 2009) - The companion book to the popular PBS series. Covers everything from how to get start-ed to inspiring others in your family to continue what you've started.
  3. How To Do Everything Genealogy (929.1072073 MOR 2015) - The most up-to-date version of this "everything" guide shows you what's new in online genealogy as well as more traditional (i.e., pen and paper) methods of genealogical research.
  4. The Weekend Genealogist: Timesaving Techniques for Effective Research (929.1072 MEL 2000) - A good overview of genealogical research techniques that can save you time and trouble. Reproducible forms are included at the back of the book.

Santa Fe Regional Library (now the Alachua County Library District) bookmobile, 1960s

Free Online Resources Available Anywhere

More and more genealogical research materials are online and accessible to anyone with Internet access. Listed below are some widely used and respected free online resources and you don't need a library card to use them.

  1. Family Search - similar to Ancestry.com in its wealth of information. Updated regularly by volunteers from the Mormon church. You will need an email address to register, and, no, you do not need to be Mormon to use this site. Allows you to create family trees as well as search for information. Fees may be incurred if you order microfilm from this site. For help on getting started, visit Family Search's Research Wiki page and click on "Beginning Research".
  2. Cyndi's List - the online genealogy ware-house bar none. This website contains listings of all things related to genealogy and breaks them up into categories, all in alphabetical order. Cyndi Howells (the "Cyndi" of Cyndislist) maintains the website and updates it on a weekly basis; you can sign up for email updates for free. If you don't know where to get started, this is your one-stop shopping place. Visit cyndislist.com/beginners for help in getting started.
  3. National Archives - The US government national repository website. Census, military, and land records can be accessed here. The Archives has a great tutorial for beginning researchers.
  4. Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter - This man knows all. Another great place for the lat-est tips on genealogical research. If there's something new in the world of genealogy, Dick Eastman will know about it. You can sign up for free email updates on this site.
  5. The USGenWeb Project - An entirely free, volunteer-run website with links to genealogical resources by state. Up-dated on a regular basis. You can also visit this website for more infor-mation about how to volunteer and help with their project.

Alachua County Genealogical Society

Want to meet with others who share your interest in genealogy? Please join the monthly meetings of the Alachua County Genealogical Society on the 3rd Monday of each month between September and May. Join us as we discuss genealogical and local history topics of interest. For more information on the organization, visit www.afn.org/~acgs or their Facebook page.

Still have questions?

If you would like more information, call our reference desk at 352-334-3939 or email us and one of our knowledgeable staff will be able to help you.

Good luck and happy researching!