Shelf Centered

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Family History at Home

by EvaAnne Johnson, Adult Services Librarian
 Old photographs on a table
Winter is here, and the need to stay safe at home continues, so these winter months are a great time to explore and preserve your family history! Here are some things that you can do from home right now!
Get started with your family history: If you haven't ever started putting together your family tree, now is a great time to start! Use a blank, basic family tree form to start recording all the information that you know about yourself, your parents, and your grandparents, and write down information about extended family. (Find some basic blank forms and charts here: Before you start searching online for your ancestors, you'll always need to gather as much information that you can from your own sources at home, such as your own memory, baby books or family Bibles, certificates and documents, and talking with other relatives. Don’t know where to start? Reserve a book such as, Genealogy for Dummies or Beginners guide to genealogy, from the library or schedule a one-on-one session with a genealogy librarian.

Interview other relatives and record their stories: Use this time at home to connect virtually or over the phone with older relatives, cousins, and extended family. Ask them about their lives and stories from your family. Take notes or record the interview (with their permission) to preserve their stories for later. Don't forget that we are living through history! Ask them about their experience during the Covid-19 pandemic, and don't forget to record your experience, too. 

Organize family photographs and documents: Now is also a good time to sort through those old family photos and documents. Organize them and make sure they are stored in containers that will help preserve them. While you're organizing your photos, you may also think about getting them scanned, so you can make extra copies and share the old photos with other family members!

Record family heirlooms: If you have any important family heirlooms, you may also want to take this opportunity to take photos of those heirlooms and write down important information about each item, such as what the item is, who it originally belonged to, how you acquired it, and why it's important. 
Online genealogy research from home: Your research doesn't have to stop just because the library is closed! On the library's Online Resources page (, you'll find links to databases and resources that will help you with your genealogy research. Free websites from the library that will help support your genealogy research include:
  • Ancestry Library Edition (at-home access with your library card extended through March 31, 2021)
  • Heritage Quest Online (at-home access with your library card)
  • (at-home access with your library card)
  • Historical Chicago Tribune (at-home access with your library card)
  • Wilmette Local History & Genealogy Resources
  • Wilmette Local Newspapers 
Other free websites to use from home include:
Check out genealogy books and magazines: Don't forget that you can place a hold on genealogy magazines and books, and you can pick them up via Parking Lot Pickup! Check out recent issues of Family Tree MagazineInternet Genealogy magazine, Illinois Heritage magazine, The Quarterly: the journal of the Illinois State Genealogical Society, and more! New additions to our genealogy book selections include Unofficial guide to, The Family Tree guide to DNA testing and genetic genealogy, and How to find your family history in U.S. church records. Search for these titles and more in our online catalog
Improve your research with ebooks and streaming videos: Get quick access to genealogy reference books at home! Hoopla has a good variety of genealogy reference e-books, including The Family Tree ToolkitTracing your Scottish AncestorsHow our Ancestors Died, and Maps for Family and Local History. Get inspiration through episodes of Finding Your Roots, available for checkout on DVD at the library, or streaming through Kanopy with your library card. Teach yourself the basics of genealogy research through episodes of Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy from Great Courses, also available to stream as video on Kanopy or as an audiobook on Hoopla. 
Sign up for our genealogy newsletter: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to start getting our new quarterly genealogy newsletter! Be the first to know about upcoming genealogy programs and get tips on genealogy research.  
Get one-on-one help from a librarian: Have you gotten stuck on your genealogy research? Are you unsure of where to start with your family tree? Do you have questions about our genealogy databases or resources? Schedule a virtual one-on-one appointment with our genealogy librarian for research help. Request a one-hour Zoom appointment here:
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