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Public Repositories

After consulting genealogical resources found in the home and starting the process of locating, interviewing or writing to relatives, consider genealogical records found in public repositories.  Our ancestors, in varying degrees, interacted with neighbours, government offices, businesses, churches, schools, and with various other individuals and organizations.  Hopefully, records of these interactions were completed and preserved in various repositories such as archives, libraries, museums and genealogical and historical societies.  Research in various public repositories will help gain an understanding of an ancestor's life, establish a line of ancestry, and provide data on relationships between members in a particular family. 

Study pedigree charts, family group sheets and other records at home, and organize data on names, places and approximate dates before making a visit to a public repository in order to have an idea of when, where and how your ancestors encountered such institutions.  Compile a list of questions you would like to have answered and then determine the type of repository that might contain the records, publications or other data that might answer them.  Become familiar with the records and resources of a genealogical and historical nature found in the area where an ancestor dwelt.  Once information has been located, research these records, publications and other material in a number of visits over time.  Genealogical periodicals and various "how to" books found in various public repositories may be very useful.

Public repositories often have books on geography, cartography, surnames and place names, as well as parish histories, photographs, diaries, journals, scrapbooks with clippings of births, marriages and deaths, gazetteers, private manuscript collections, directories, maps and plans, vital data copied from local newspapers, parish records, and other publications and resources.  Family and local histories, transcriptions of cemetery, parish, census, probate, birth, death or marriage records, and other data may also be available.  Some institutions have set up specialized collections of records and resources on various groups such as First Nations. 

Before visiting any public repository, it is wise to write or telephone to see when they are open to the public and if there are special registration procedures or fees.  Smaller libraries sometimes have limited hours.  Some smaller museums are closed during the winter months.  However, a person can often obtain access to the resources found in these smaller institutions even in winter months if they write in advance and arrange for an appointment.

Familiarize yourself with finding aids found in the reference section of the particular public institution you are visiting.  Ask the staff to explain the classification and cataloguing system used.  Getting to know the inventories and finding aids will save time and effort and research will go smoother and quicker.  In libraries, you use catalogues to identify information then go and retrieve the item.  However, when using the collections found in archives, staffs do the retrieval and filing work.  Please remember that inventories and finding aids are revised periodically and that repeat visits are required to check these new inventories.

Check to see if there are any documents guides prepared that may be of assistance.  Once these guides are checked, tell the staff member the name of the family you are researching, where that family lived, and what type of information you are looking for.  Ask if there is any information on this particular family and then carefully study it.  Aids such as inventories, card catalogues and guides might not describe everything that is in a particular institution.  The staff may know the location of certain resources that may be available only by request, so do not be afraid to ask!  Some larger institutions are divided into departments or sections where special services or data is provided upon request.  The staff of archives, libraries, museums and historical and genealogical societies may know about local genealogical resources and may be involved in family history research themselves.  They frequently help patrons solve genealogical research problems or put them in touch with local historians and sometimes even with relatives.