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Family History Preservation and Genealogy Research Guide

Abraham Lincoln and Diana Bergemann

Abraham Lincoln and Diana Bergemann


It all started with a possible family connection to Abraham Lincoln. Diana Bergemann, one of the producers of Columbus Neighborhoods, wanted to put her family’s claim to fame to the test. So she headed to the Downtown branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library to do some digging.

No spoilers here—you’ll have to watch the segment to see what she found:

Not only did Bergemann get some help on her own genealogy research, but she also gathered some general tips for researching family history, while Cindy Gaillard, WOSU’s director of local content, learned how to properly archive historic photos at Ohio History Connection.

Here, we’ve compiled the preservation and genealogy research tips from this week’s episode of Columbus Neighborhoods to create a family history guide.

Preserving historic documentation

Much of the legwork for genealogy research involves digging through documentation: birth, marriage and death certificates; family photos; journals from family members; etc. As much as possible, you’ll want to keep these documents to use as primary sources for verifying information about your family.

“It’s very important to preserve those for future generations,” says Russ Pollitt, genealogy subject specialist at the library.

For safekeeping, store important documents in archival materials, such as polyester-based plastic and acid-free paper. These materials will protect the documents without yellowing or becoming brittle over the years.

Behind the scenes at the "How to Archive Photos" shoot at Ohio History Connection

Behind the scenes at the “How to Archive Historic Photos” shoot at Ohio History Connection


Archiving family photos

While scrapbooking is a popular way of archiving family photos, OHC curator Lisa Wood warns against overdoing the stickers and embellishments.

“Adhesives fail over time,” Wood says.

Many families have self-adhesive photo albums that were popular in 1970s and ‘80s. The problem with these is if you want to remove a photo, it can be difficult to do so without damaging the picture.

If the adhesive is starting to lose its grip on the photo, Wood recommends using dental floss (unwaxed, unflavored and uncolored) to remove the photo from the sticky-backed album. Pull the floss gently behind the photo, but stop if you feel resistance to avoid damaging it. If you’re unable to remove the photos from the adhesive, Wood suggests scanning the page, which also allows you to color correct any discoloration on the photos.

For long-term archival, Wood recommends using a photo album with acid-free paper, polyester-based plastic sleeves for the pages and photo corners for the pictures so they can be removed easily. Be careful not to overstuff the photo book, Wood cautions, as it can compromise the album’s ability to protect its contents.

It’s also important to record information about each photo: who’s pictured, when and where it was taken, etc. You can write this info underneath each photo in an album or on the back of the photos, using pencil. Photos and information about them can be very helpful for identifying family members when doing genealogy research.

Getting started with genealogy

“With genealogy, you always start with yourself and work your way back through time,” Pollitt says.

CML’s Local History & Genealogy department offers a genealogy toolkit to help you get started. First, you’ll want to fill out the pedigree chart, starting with your info (dates and places of birth and marriage). Then add your parents’ and grandparents’ info. Next, use the family group sheet to record more information about a specific family unit, such as places of residence, occupations, etc.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the information to fill out the forms, Pollitt says. Write down what you know and even possible dates that need verified. From there, you’ll want to use primary-source documents to verify the information you’ve filled out and add to it (there’s space on the family group sheet to list sources).

The pedigree chart from CML's genealogy toolkit

The pedigree chart from CML’s genealogy toolkit


Research resources

You’ll find a wealth of resources at CML, from books and microfilm to foreign-language dictionaries to indexes and transcriptions of various records. You can also access online research tools at the library, like Ancestry, FamilySearch and Fold3. And if you bring your pedigree chart and family group sheet to the library, Pollitt and other researchers will point you in the right direction.

“We assist and guide you through your research,” Pollitt says. “We don’t do your entire family history, but we kind of get you where you need to go, whether it’s using the book resources, microfilm or online resources.”

Whether you simply want to fill in the gaps of your family history over the last few generations, or you want to connect yourself to a famous person or event in history, genealogy research helps resurrect and preserve your family’s story, adding to the story of our community. Plus, you never know—you might just be related to a former U.S. president.

Emily Thompson

Related Video

Family and Community History

On this episode of Columbus Neighborhoods, local historian Doreen Uhas Sauer investigates the Little Oklahoma neighborhood on Columbus’ south side, the Columbus Metropolitan Library shows us how to do genealogy research and explores its African-American digital collection, and Ohio History Connections talks the do’s and don’ts of archiving historic photos.