Shhh Be Very Quiet



It’s a rainy Sunday and your planned out of doors event fell through, or in most likely in my case it 100 degrees out and I don’t feel like getting a sunburn….So my thoughts turn to where can I go and it will be at least a tolerable temperature.  The Library!

Before you run out the door first check to see if your destination is open, and do they have information that you will find useful.  In most cases you won’t find the original birth certificate of your great grandmother, but there might be some other useful information.

Following is some general information you might find useful:

Vertical Files

Any library with a genealogy related collection will have something called a vertical file.  The best way to describe this is the pre-internet version of a Surname or Location message board.  Generally these are files arranged by Surname and over time there have been contributions made by all different people.  It can be newspaper clippings, transcriptions of Bible Records, a genealogy prepared in 1939, and quite frequently a query mailed to the library.  While this data can be useful like anything else do not take it at face value without researching for yourself.  One of these files led me down my first goose-chase, another story for another time.



Many records such as Census, Newspapers, and Vital Records just to name a few will be only available on tape format.  Generally a library will have a few of these machines, and not all will be able to print the actual document.  Ask the Librarian how to use the machines, and what to do in the event you wish to print.  Many times they will help you move the tape from the reader to another reader when you are ready to print.  You can also transcribe the data, actually I recommend you do that anyway.  Sometimes copies are more difficult to read than the image you view, so I always transcribe, and back-up with a copy where possible.


Citing your sources

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to cite your sources.  Your research is going to take a long time, and you will forget where you examined the source.  There is a wonderful publication “Evidence Explained” by Elizabeth Mills.  If you aren’t at the point where you need this level of data here are some things to consider.  Each fact should have at least one primary source, or several independent secondary sources.


Primary Source – Basically is the recording of an event shortly after it occurred by a witness.  A certificate of birth , a marriage document, a death certificate.


Secondary Source – A recording of an event some time after the event.  An example would be the birth date on a census record, Bible records that clearly are all written in the same hand at the same time.  A book written about a family or a location is a secondary source as well. Hopefully the books will cite a primary source for you to chase down.


Primary records are preferable of course but they are not always available and they can be incorrect.  My great great great grandfather’s death certificate, has his death date listed as both his death date and birth date.  Also there is a mix of primary and secondary on primary documents quite often, for example on a death record, the deceased’s birth date, and parent’s names are all provided by a relative and therefore fall into secondary category.


Citations should at a bare minimum include:

Title of record


Publishing information in the case of a book (Publisher, date, location)

Call number
Location of record (Library name, address, phone number)

Date you found the source
URL if electronic source

Now you have the basics of what to record and your off to your library.  While policies vary for each library this is my basic list of supplies I bring with me – List of research plans, a printout of my tree or a PC with the file,  pencils, notebook, calculator (for quickly checking dates), magnifying glass, singles and change for copies and lockers, and a picture ID.

If your library has a special collections department don’t be shocked if you are required to leave all bags in a locker, and only be permitted notebooks, and pencils as well as be expected to sign in with photo ID.  This is to protect the historical documents you potentially will be accessing.

In many cases some of the records will only be accessed via a request to the circulation desk.  Generally these are older documents/books.  You hand in the written request and shortly thereafter a person will retrieve from archive.  They may arrive with special book props, and gloves for you to wear.  These are delicate records and there will be no chance of you photocopying, so transcribing with pencil will be the only option.

Quite often there will be index of archives located elsewhere.  An index is a tool and is really not a source, you will need to track down the original document.  Many times there will be DAR books – this is the publications of the Daughters of the Revolution.  I do believe much of this information is available on-line at their Website –  This is akin to an index.

I have found much information at libraries, and really recommend you pay them a visit.  Below are a few of my favorites:

Archibald S. Alexander Library

Alexander Library is located in New Brunswick.  Please check the hours it is open before you head out.  Some records are located in the basement of the larger library (films/fiche  of periodicals/newspapers, Federal Census of New Jersey, State Census of New Jersey to name but a few.  The Special Collections has the bulk of the genealogical records and the access hours are much less generous so make sure you double check the times.  If you plan on making copies anywhere in the library you need to stop at the photocopy center and purchase a copy card.  I suggest doing this before you enter the special collections area.

Special collections houses the the Genealogical Society of New Jerseyrecords.  There are vertical records, Bible records, publications, burial records to name just a few.

I love the Special Collections area.  It’s bright and sunny, I spent about two years (Monthly visits) gathering data so for me it is a wealth of information.  You will not find official birth records there, but there are copies of bible records for the earlier periods prior to the state’s official collecting of vital records.


The Morristown and Morris Township Library

The Library is small but it is packed full of goodness.  There is a wealth of  resources there.  The emphasis is on Morris county, and Northern New Jersey, but there is also some resources from New England and overseas.  This is my second favorite (a close second) to Alexander Library.  Most of the genealogical resources is in the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.  I love that this section is opened on weekends, including Sundays.  The hours are reduced in summer, so make sure you check the website or call before leaving.  Be prepared to have to park in a metered area so bring coins for the meters and copies.

Bring a pencil, pens are not permitted.  The volunteers there are wonderful, and can be quite helpful if you need any assistance.  There are microfilmed records of very early churches, New Jersey State Census, and Federal State Census for New Jersey.

I’ve used other libraries in NJ State Library in Trenton (Alexander was better I thought) Bernards, Basking Ridge, Long Hill Township. Monmouth County Historical Society has a nice little library and if your research brings you there I suggest a visit.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I just wanted to share the wealth of information that can be found.  When I was visiting one of these libraries and a bit stuck I just started browsing through some books that might have some information I could use.  One of the books referenced the marriage of my ancestor in a town, close to where I had been searching, but in a different county.  This opened the door for me to request the records and brought me back another generation.  So don’t overlook the value of a little legwork.




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