Most people in America can trace their family back to some sort of immigration wave, whether their ancestors came over on the Mayflower or flew into JFK airport. And withNew York being large point of entry, many families of immigrants either settled here or spent time here before moving on. With our large collection of newspapers, directories and manuscripts, the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library is an incredible resource for tracking your family’s history in America. But, where to begin?
Researching your genealogy can be an intimidating undertaking, a project so big that many people don’t know where to start. But Reference Librarian Joseph Ditta gave us a few tips on how to get started and how the Klingenstein Library can help you out.
- Start at home: Before you set foot in the Library, interview your family and see what family records they may have. “It can be a huge undertaking, which is why it is best to focus on finding one piece of information at a time (e.g., ‘What year did great-grandmother die?’),” says Ditta. “Rather than go at it blindly, one should start by consulting sources at home. The best ‘sources’ for clues are older relatives who might have known the ancestors you are researching, and who might have preserved documents relating to them, things like marriage certificates, citizenship papers, funeral prayer cards, etc.”
- Start with the present: Ditta says the “biggest mistake” most people doing genealogical research make is trying to start from the past and work to the present, “trying to connect distant people found in records to their personal family tree.” Instead, start with what you know about more recent generations and work back.
- Learn about the study of genealogy: “The BEST thing for a genealogist to do, regardless of their level of skill or of how far they’ve gone in their research, is to read everything they can find about family history,” says Ditta. He suggests checking out journals published by the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and looking into ethnicity-specific organizations like the Italian Genealogical Group.
- Let us help: The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library has a ton of resources to help you find out more, including city directories, maps, atlases, published family histories, local histories, newspapers and manuscripts. “Even if there is nothing specifically from your ancestors in the collections, we might have something produced by their associates that could relate to your research,” says Ditta.
- More than anything, remember to keep asking questions. “It’s our job as librarians to provide information, or to at least point a researcher in the right direction, so we hope that no one ever leaves empty handed.”