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Research Guides

Genealogy: Getting Started

Genealogy, one of the most popular pastimes in the United States, is the study of the history of a family. LancasterHistory.org is the repository for resources, records and documents that reveal the details of families who lived in Lancaster County since its founding in 1729. These records serve as the puzzle pieces needed to see the picture of your family. There is always a professional staff member on duty to assist you in using our collections and help you put together the puzzle.

Begin your genealogy with present generations and work back in time. One good way to start is to interview relatives. Ask them for information about themselves and their ancestors. Be sure to ask about family stories. How did your family respond to a war or an economic depression? What were your ancestors’ religious and political views? Ask if there are any family artifacts such as photographs, diaries, family Bibles or military records—all of these can help in your quest.

As you begin, take the time to read a variety of beginning books on genealogy to familiarize yourself with the kinds of resources and techniques used in this type of research. At the same time, be sure you get off to a good organizational start. Use standard forms such as pedigree charts and family group sheets to help keep your family lines untangled. Good record keeping is essential. Remember to always record the source of any information you collect.

Taking an introductory class in genealogy is an excellent way to learn from those experienced in researching family history. LancasterHistory.org offers Genealogy classes throughout the year, check our Classes and Workshops page for information.

The Library holds a large collection of published family histories in addition to thousands of family name files. The information found in these publications is usually the work of other genealogists. These can serve as a helpful guide and is often the first place you will want to look.

There are many different types of records for you to use in searching for your family’s history: church records, court records, military records and census records are but a few examples. The Federal Census, taken every 10 years since 1790, is a great help to your genealogy. The most recent census made available to the public is for the year 1940. From 1790 to 1840 the Census listed only the head of the household and the ages of the people living in it. From 1850 on, the Census listed the names of everyone in each household as well as ages, occupations, and places of birth.

You can access our library catalog from your home computer. Printed research guides will help you to effectively use the many resources found in the reference collection. As you become more proficient you will want to use more specialized material housed in our Archives collection.

The Library subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, database resources that include images from the Federal Census from 1790 to 1940 for the entire country, as well as military service records, immigration records, land records, photographs, full-text versions of thousands of historical and genealogical books and much more. LancasterHistory.org has several resources, such as this, that are very useful to genealogists who do not have any ancestors in Lancaster County.

For those unable to visit the library we provide research service by mail and maintain a list of contract researchers for you to contact directly.

Our Blogs

The History Bucket

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Because the world is a bucketful of questions.  And someone's gotta answer them

While working with the object collections of LancasterHistory.org we come across many questions.  Visit here to see some of the more unusual stories that we have uncovered.

[Read My Blog]

Historically Speaking

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The staff and volunteers of the Archives Department at LancasterHistory.org never know what they'll find when working on the documents and records in the collections.  Fortunately, when they do discover something noteworthy they are very willing to share!

[Read Our Blog]

Marianne's PhotoBlog

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Because pictures are worth a thousand words, but sometimes they need an interpreter.

You know that cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words? Ok, well, imagine the stories going on in my head after cataloging several hundred photos every single day!

[Read My Blog]

Wheatland: A Love Story

Who would have guessed that a young lady would fall in love with an old President and his old house?

One Young Lady, One Old House, Two Hundred Years of History

I’m Jennifer Walton, Museum Associate at President James Buchanan's Wheatland, and I love an old President and his old house! Over the past nine years, I’ve learned quite a lot about both, and I would love to share it with you!

[Read My Blog]



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