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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Finding Published Family Histories
by Rhonda R. McClure

March 07, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Often, in our genealogical pursuits, we may overlook a valuable resource known as the published genealogy. Published genealogies come in a variety of shapes and sizes and by that I mean a variety of organizational methods and levels of expertise and accuracy.

Of course, the first step in using such a resource is in finding it. Sometimes, as we go along in our research, we discover that we have reinvented the wheel instead of spending our research time building on what has already been discovered and published. What do you do then?

Published family histories may hold your clues.

Family History Library

The first step is to check some of the larger repositories. Generally, when someone publishes a family history they not only share it with their relatives, but they also submit it to some libraries.

One of the first places to look is the Family History Library where you can search the online catalog for surnames. Generally the family histories that you will be looking for will be devoted to a given surname or the descendants or ancestors of a given individual.

The one drawback to finding a family history through the Family History Library is accessibility since books cannot be borrowed to a local Family History Center. Once you know that a book exists, you may be able to get the book another way. Of course, if the book has been microfilmed, you will be able to request it through your local Family History Center.

Lending Options

The New England Historic Genealogical Society offers book loan to its members. If you have a number of New England lines, it is worth the membership to have access to their impressive lending library.

Interlibrary loan may be another option since many large libraries will lend books to local public libraries. While you cannot take the book home, you can at least use it at your local library. Now that its collection has moved to the St. Louis Public Library, the National Genealogical Society’s library is now available through interlibrary loan to anyone, not just NGS members. Other libraries, though, may also have the work in question and you will not know until you have brought up the topic with your local library.

Another option for finding published family histories is the Library of Congress. Once you have found the book in the Library of Congress’ catalog, you can ask your local library if it might be available through interlibrary loan.

The Internet

Up to now we have discussed the places where you can find published books. While you should certainly seek these out, you may also find that the Internet offers an avenue for finding these older published books. Those published before 1928 are now in the public domain and some genealogy companies are scanning these books and digitizing them.'s Genealogy Library is a perfect example of what you can find digitized. They have compiled quite a collection of family histories, among other resources, which have been digitized using the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) method. This allows the search engine to search all pages showing you any page in a digitized book that may have your ancestor's name.

While more and more individuals are publishing their family data online, and you should certainly investigate what is out there, databases such as Genealogy Library offer you access to published works that may be difficult to find any other way. It is access such as this that is making it possible for genealogists to progress in their research at a speed never before seen.

In Conclusion

Regardless of how you find the family history, remember that they are secondary sources. Secondary sources should be used as clues. If sources have been properly cited, you may learn more heavily on the published history, but you should always keep an open mind just in case you discover primary evidence that is contradictory to what you have learned.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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