Genealogy websites are making more and more records available online. But you’ll still need to go to the source to access certain documents. Write successful request letters with these six tips for ordering records from libraries and archives:
- Before you send a request, search the library’s or archive’s website to verify that it has the materials you need. If you can’t find the information, e-mail or call the reference or genealogy desk and ask.
- Look online for the library’s instructions for requesting records. Follow them exactly, providing relevant, specific information about the ancestor who’s the subject of the record. Use the format specified (such as e-mail or a typed letter) and include any fees.
- Double-check the name spellings and dates in your request to eliminate typos (which can make the record impossible for a librarian to find). Include any nicknames or maiden names the ancestor may appear with.
- Be realistic: Don’t ask a librarian to search several years’ worth of records, or to hand you a completed pedigree chart. If the scope of your request goes beyond the time a librarian can devote to it, he or she may recommend you hire a private researcher.
- If you don’t receive a response within a couple of months, send a polite follow-up with a copy of your first request for reference.
- As an alternative to requesting a record from a distant library, you may be able to borrow it through interlibrary loan. Ask for assistance at your local library’s reference or genealogy desk.
Sample record request letter
Dear Sir or Madam:
I would like to order a copy of the marriage document for my grandparents, Michael John Mullinger and Jean Louise “Lou” Miller, who were married in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, on Oct. 30, 1918. Michael was 23 at the time and Jean was 20.
Please also look under Mallinger, a common misspelling for Michael’s surname.
As directed on your website, I have enclosed a check for the amount of $23.
Please mail the document to me at my mailing address, 123 Main St., Anywhere, USA, 12345. If you have any questions, you may contact me at (123) 456-7890 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much for your assistance in this matter.
John R. Doe
The above tips and sample letter come from the Family Tree Factbook, a comprehensive genealogy reference. In this book, you’ll find tips for researching all sorts of genealogy records, from censuses to vital records to deeds. You’ll also learn about the best genealogy archives spread throughout the country, plus how to access the most useful genealogy websites. The book is designed to give you the information you need fast. And its size makes it a great quick-reference guide for research at home or in an archive.
And if you want to visit a library yourself, keep in mind these 38 genealogy finds you can only make in person.