Compiled by: Columbus Metropolitan Library
Biography, History & Travel Division
96 S. Grant Ave.
Columbus, OH 43215-4781


Genealogy research is time consuming and can be complicated. Our library collects information for the state of Ohio exclusively. If you family is from another state, you may want to visit the State Library of Ohio, which has a more extensive genealogy collection, or write to a library or agency in that state.

There are two additional handouts about genealogy available in the Biography, History & Travel Division. One is called "Genealogy: Tracing Your Family in Columbus". (This is available here by going to the Ohio County Page and clicking on Franklin County.) It lists other agencies in Columbus that have records and useful information. The second handout is a bibliography of genealogy books in the Columbus Metropolitan Library's collection. (This will be posted as time permits.)

Step 1: Beginning

Always begin your search at home. Find out as much as you can by interviewing relatives and consulting written documents such as the family Bible as well as marriage, birth and death certificates in your family's possession.

If you have never done genealogical research before, we recommend beginning by reading a book about how to conduct genealogical research. The 929.1 area of the collection contains several circulating copies of "how-to" books on the subject.

Step 2: Census Records

We have the U.S. Census for the years 1790 and 1800, and the Ohio Census for 1820-1880 and 1900-1920. There is none for the year 1810, and we only have parts of the 1890's--both of these years were lost in fires. The census records for 1790 and 1800 are for the entire United States. The indexes for those are on the same microfilm reel as the census.

There are indexes for the 1820-1860 and 1880 censuses (929.309771/I382) in book form. All you need to know is the name of the head of the family (usually the father). Look this person up and you will find a reference to a county, township and page number. After you find this information, you can go to the census for that county and find your ancestor. At this time there isn't an Ohio index for 1870, but some county genealogy societies have prepared indexes for their areas.

The 1880 and 1900-1920 indexes are on microfilm, and are called the Soundex. It groups like-spelled names together to help eliminate misspelllings and illegible handwriting. Using the Soundex is slightly complicated, so please ask a librarian for assistance.

Step 3: Histories: City, County & Family

After checking the census, it may be worthwhile to check the various city and county histories available in the 977.11-977.13 area of the collection. City and county histories can provide more details on families and the area they resided in. Start by checking the surname index on microfilm compiled by the Ohio Historical Society. It is an index to all the Ohio county histories.

Our library has a very limited collection of family histories. The Ohio Historical Society and the State Library of Ohio have large family history collections.

Step 4: County Records

The 929.309771's contain the county records. These are records that local genealogy societies and individuals have produced. The kind of records you will find here vary from county to county, but they are mostly birth, marriage, death, naturalization, wills and census indexes.

Step 5: Atlases and Maps

We have atlases for almost all of the 88 counties of Ohio. These atlases were produced in the late 1800s. They can help in locating where an ancestor may have lived.

We also have a collection of Ohio and Columbus maps. These maps include historical maps of Ohio and Columbus, railroad, canal and road maps, and a variety of other different types. For foreign countries we have current maps plus gazatteers that may help pinpoint where an ancestor lived.

Step 6: Military Records

Military records can provide information about your ancestors. The library has Ohio rosters of soldiers from the Revolutionary War through World War I. Rosters list the following information: age, date entered service, date mustered out or date discharged or died. (The index for the Civil War roster is on microfilm.)

Indexes to pension records found in the National Archives can be located in the 929.30973 area of the collection. Pension records are based on death or disability claims made by veterans and their families.

The library also has regimental histories for the different wars.

To locate more information, especially on veterans of World War II and the wars that followed, consult the book "How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military"(355.002573/J69h). Pay special attention to the chapter on obtaining military records.

Step 7: Land Grants

Ohio was settled by use of the land grant system. An early Ohio ancestor may have been a Revolutionary soldier who was granted land instead of pay, or may have bought land through one of the land grant companies. Either way there should be a record of that purchase or grant. In the OHIO 333.16's are the books about land grants in Ohio. Some may explain how the land grant system works. Others, like Clifford Smith's "Federal Land Series"(333.16 S64f), list grantees and the dates of their filing. If you want more information on a certain land grant, contact the land office in which it was filed. In Ohio, contact the Ohio Historical Society at 297-2510.

Step 8: Heraldry/Surnames

If you have traced your family to Great Britain or early Colonial America, you may want to check Burke's or Bebrett's books to peerage, baronetage, knighthood and landed gentry(929.6-929.8). These are family histories that allow you to trace a line of succession to a peerage or baronetage. Also consult the books about family crests and tartans in the same area.

The 929.4 area of the collection is devoted to surname dictionaries that list where a last name originated, in what country or region, and give the meaning of the name. The library's collection is strongest in dictionaries from the British Isles and Germany.

Step 9: Immigration

The two best places in Columbus to look for your immigrant ancestors are the State Library of Ohio and the Latter Day Saints Library. The Columbus Metropolitan Library has a few sources such as William Filby's "Passenger and Immigrants List"(929.3/P2875) and "Complete Book of Emigrants 1607-1699"(929.3/C688).

CML also has "how-to" foreign genealogy books that can help you trace your family in another country.

Step 10: City Directories

The library has a collection of Columbus City Directories from the 1840s to the present (917.7157/C72622). They list individuals much like telephone books. They also provide addresses, phone numbers and occupations of those individuals listed.

There are city directories for Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo for 1882-1935 on microfilm. Check with the State Library of Ohio or the Ohio Historical Society for other Ohio city directories.

Step 11: Periodicals

Although the Biography, History & Travel Division doesn't have a wide variety of magazines about genealogy, it subscribes to "Ohio Genealogical Society Newsletter"(929.309771/N558n), the "Ohio Genealogical Report"(929.309771/R425r) and the "Franklintonian"(929.309771/F83/F8311). Check these publications' annual indexes to find a wealth of useful information about your ancestors.

Other sources for genealogical research can be found in the Magazines & Newspapers Division, which carries the "Genealogical Helper" and the Columbus newspapers dating back to the early 1800s. Most of the papers do not have indexes, unfortunately. "The Ohio State Journal" has an index for 1913-1940 and the "Columbus News Index" covers Columbus newspapers from 1980.

Step 12: Where to Go from Here?

At some point in your search, you'll probably need to contact other libraries or agencies. The following books provide addresses to county courthouses throughout the United States as well as where to write in other countries.

"Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources", 1992. R929.1072/A538

"County Courthouse Book" by Elizabeth Petty Bentley, 1990. R929.3/B477c

"International Vital Records" by Thomas Jay Kemp, 1994. R929.3/K32i3

"Ohio Guide to Genealogical Sources" by Carol Willsey Bell, 1988. Ohio929.309771016/B433o

Maggie's World of Courthouse Dust & Genealogy Fever

Zimmerman Family Table of Contents