The main branch of the New York City Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan has a genealogy department, The Milstein Division. If you’ve ever been curious about your ancestors, drop by for a visit.
The Milstein Division has computers available with subscriptions to genealogy websites. Many official paper records such as censuses and immigration records are easy to access online. The information to seek in these libraries are the more unique records such as family histories. These books, typically created by a family member, are rarely available online and may provide valuable insight. More details below:
Even if you don’t live near New York City, check out your local library. Many have a genealogy or local history section and may be able to help. And if your library doesn’t have the records you’d need, borrow them through the free interlibrary loan program.
Work Space & Tempting Records Await In the Milstein Division
I confess I’m addicted to the TV shows Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are? I’ve learned so much about history and countries all over the world, not to mention celebrities. Did you know the Bernie Sanders and Larry David are distant cousins? And that Larry David had ancestors in Alabama in the Confederacy? He didn’t either. See what fun you’re missing!
Genealogy is a modern-day personal detective story. The danger is that it becomes a time-consuming diversion from what you should be doing. I tell myself it’s a sophisticated and useful computer game, and I’m doing it for my parents. But let’s be real, it’s for me. With over 7000 people in my family tree that needs some pruning, it’s challenging and never dull.
If you’re serious about building your tree and want some validation that you probably guessed right and picked the correct ancestor from a cluster with the same name, consider having your DNA test done. I’ve done mine and my family members. One generation back helps tremendously. I’m in lots of Ancestry DNA circles that indicate my DNA cousins related to this family member.
According to Wired, during the four-day post-Thanksgiving cyber shopping weekend, Ancestry sold about 1.5 million DNA kits. For once, I was ahead of the curve having it done four years ago. I have over 250 4th cousins and closer, so the numbers will keep increasing. I just wish I could buy their stock! Link to Order: Ancestry DNA Sale
My True Pocahontas Story: Not long after I got my DNA results and linked it to my tree, I heard from some “distant” DNA cousins. They told me I should build back my tree so we would have a common ancestor and connection. But they pointed to Pocahontas, a thrilling but unlikely 10th great grandmother. According to my Ancestry DNA results, I have no Native American DNA. I was bitterly disappointed since I’d hoped my grandmother Mumsey had some.
My Beautiful Mumsey with High Cheekbones & Dark Hair
I tried to find records how we might be related to the American Indian Princess but gave up. This year, I stopped by the Milstein Division and found a book on the Sandefur’s, my grandmother’s maiden name. This was a rare book prepared in the 1970’s by a former librarian and now-deceased distant cousin. Opening the book, I groaned. Right off the bat, the book listed the Rolfe family, the man she married and with whom she had one son. But later in the book, she listed some Sandefur great uncles already in my tree. Bonanza!
Pocahontas is the 9th great-grandmother of the wife of my 1st cousin five times removed! While she isn’t a blood relation, we are related through marriage! My DNA cousins, with Sandefur bloodlines to connect us, were right all along. They just didn’t know how to get me there.
Thrilled to Have the Great Lady in My Family Tree
If you’re curious about your family and ancestors, stop by your local library and consider an Ancestry DNA test. But if you get tested, take the next step. Create and link your DNA to a family tree which is free to set up on Ancestry. We might be distant DNA cousins, and you too can have Pocahontas in your tree. Just don’t tell The Donald!
Karen Stensgaard is the author of the novel AQUAVIT available on Amazon, Ingram Spark, and other major retail sites as a trade paperback and e-book.