February 15, 2019
Bob Larson, LCGS Education Chair, recently wrote about using free library databases. Bob’s coverage of several library databases such as Ancestry.com and Heritage Quest was excellent, and it reminded me of other databases that are also available through public library websites.
The Poudre River Public Library District offers a couple of useful databases that are worth checking out if you have ancestors from the Fort Collins area. One offers full-text content of the Fort Collins Coloradoan from 1999 to the present. The other is a link to maps and burial records for Grandview and Roselawn Cemeteries; this database contains burials from the cemeteries’ inceptions until the present. Both can be accessed from home with a library card.
As Bob mentioned, it’s possible to get a library card to non-local libraries in Colorado by using a Colorado driver’s license. A Denver Public Library (DPL) card is definitely worth having since the library offers several databases of value to genealogists. My favorite is America’s Obituaries and Death Notices. It contains obituaries from newspapers from all over the U.S. and covers the period from the 1980s through the present. With the popularity of DNA testing, many genealogists are interested in tracing forward from their ancestors to living descendants to find potential cousins who might be willing to test or to find distant cousins who might know more about the family’s history. The obituaries in this database can help fill in information on the more recent generations who are often difficult to access in other databases.
Another great database at DPL is the New York Times Historical Backfile, available from ProQuest. This database contains full-text content from the New York Times from 1851 to three years before the current year. Even if you have no one in your family tree who ever lived in New York City, this is a wonderful way to read articles that give contemporary reports of major historical events such as wars, natural disasters, elections, etc. These articles can give insight into what was going on in the country that might have impacted an ancestor’s life.
Even more interesting, if an ancestor arrived through the port of New York City, the daily column Marine Intelligence is useful since it listed every ship that arrived and departed from the harbor and gave a brief summary of the conditions of the voyage for those ships arriving at the harbor. This can include things such as close encounters with icebergs, extremes of weather during the voyage and other events such as unexpected deaths onboard. Plus, the daily newspaper will detail exactly what the weather conditions were on the day your ancestor arrived. Both the New York Times and the obituary database are available, for free, with a DPL library card. They can be found on the Denver Public Library website under the tab labelled “Research” by clicking the tab labelled “Databases A to Z.”
Don’t forget to check out the websites of the local libraries in the towns where your ancestors lived, as well. If you don’t know the name of the local library, just Google the town or county to find the exact name. Virtually all libraries have a website now, and those websites can contain a wealth of information. Even the smallest libraries often have databases containing local obituaries, local county or city directories and even vital statistics such as death and marriage records. Many of these databases are free and don’t even require a library card. If they do, try making a telephone call to see whether there is a way to access the databases, even if you don’t qualify for a library card. I have found that many libraries, especially the ones in smaller towns, are willing to help you find the information you need.
Although the big databases such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org contain a lot of information, don’t overlook smaller, more local, sources. These resources can contain the information that you’ll find nowhere else.