Online resources are invaluable for genealogists today. When I began researching, there was no such thing as researching online. If I wanted to search something as simple as a census record, I had to order it through inter-library loan and wait for it to arrive. Then I spent hours going through it page by page at the library because there were no indexes. My how things have changed!
With sites like Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org many resources are available online today from anywhere and at any time to just about anyone with an internet connection. While these are great assets, there is still so much more out there not available to everyone because it’s not digitized or if it is, the information is cost-prohibitive for most people.
Of course I have access to Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org. I also subscribe to Fold3 (which consists largely of military records), the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the Utah Genealogical Society (lifetime member), and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (lifetime member). All of these sites provide access to databases not available free to most researchers.
In addition to these resources, as a member of the University of Iowa community I also have access to many databases the general public does not:
Articles about our ancestors and/or the times and places in which they lived are invaluable in telling their stories. They can also be key to breaking down brick walls.
- Early American Newspapers, Series 1-3 and 6-7
- Historical Newspapers Online
- Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers
- 20th Century Americas Historical Newspapers, Series 1
- Many other more specialized newspaper collections
Knowing what the law was when our ancestors lived and created legal documents gives much insight into why they did what they did.
- Heinonline (HeinOnline is the world’s largest image-based legal research collection and contains more than nine centuries of legal history.)
- University of Iowa Law Library (Although this link is nearly 10 years old, it still gives you an idea of how impressive the U of I Law Library is. I have access to all of their resources.
The University also has other resources invaluable for genealogical researchers:
- An extensive map room. Maps are very useful for identifying exactly where our ancestors were. Some of them indicate where the residence was located on the property even if the house doesn’t exist any longer. They can also tell us who our ancestors’ neighbors were. This is important information since neighbors were often also family members or close confidants.
- Government Documents room. As with most large university libraries, the U of I has a collection of early US documents including the serial set and territorial papers which are useful for early research in the pioneer era of westward expansion before statehood, should your ancestors have been early migrants.
- There is also an archives at the U of I which has a lot of material not available elsewhere. I’ve had good success using this material for my own Iowa ancestors.
- JStor (short for journal storage) is a collection of back issues of academic journals. It also includes primary sources. These journals are useful for putting our ancestors’ lives in context for the times and places they lived.
These are just a few of hundreds of resources available through the University of Iowa as an academic institution. These resources are often overlooked when attempting to break through brick walls or create a more complete picture of our ancestors’ lives.
In addition to the university resources, the State Historical Society of Iowa has extensive resources for the whole state. They have a lot of vital records on microfilm, probably every county history ever published for Iowa, and an extensive newspaper collection for Iowa. They also have their own archives room. Archives are often overlooked in genealogical research because they’re not the easiest resource to access, but they can be very lucrative.