Genealogy & Historical Records

Oakland Public Library subscribes to two online databases containing genealogy and historical records, AncestryLibrary and HeritageQuest.  AncestryLibrary is only available within the Main and branch libraries while HeritageQuest may be accessed from any computer with internet access inside or outside of the library.  You will need your library card and PIN to access HeritageQuest outside the library.  Both databases are located on OPL’s website.

The government websites listed below are also useful resources for genealogical research.

National Archives and Records Administration

Although most of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Collection is physically archived and therefore unavailable electronically, within this site you will still find some historical government documents and primary documents such as presidential correspondence and military records.  One useful new resource on this site is the 1940 Census which has just been released and is featured on the home page.

Most of the genealogy collection is NOT available online, but the website provides finding aids and links to articles to help prepare your genealogical research should you visit the National Archives.

To Search for Records: 

  • Click on the Research Our Records box on the upper left side of the page. 
  • Scroll down and click on Research A Specific Topic in the middle section of the page.  This will take you to a page organized by topic.  You will find Genealogy under the People section. 
  • Click on Start Your Genealogy Research to begin.  This will take you to a page with the topics Census Records, Military Records, Immigration Records (Ship Passenger Lists), Naturalization Records, and Land Records.  Again, these documents are not available electronically, but these sections provide you with tips for searching these types of documents.

You will, however, find digitized documents and photos within the other topics on the Research A Topic page.  These include America’s Founding Documents, some War, Foreign Policy and Military Records, Federal Government Records, and Art, Culture, and Technology documents such as Thomas Edison’s light bulb patent.  Just click on the links on the Research A Topic page to explore further.

Library of Congress – American Memory Project

This site contains an electronic collection of texts, films, videos, and audio files that may be helpful for genealogical and historical research .  The site is organized by topic and is fairly straightforward.  Slave narrative oral histories in multimedia, including audio; films from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; Pearl Harbor and Public Reactions multiformat collections; and September 11th and Public Reactions multiformat collections are all included in the Culture & Folklife section. 

African American History, including pamphlets, sheet music, and printed ephemera and Native American History collections are also included.  Other topics are Advertising, Architecture/Landscape, Cities/Towns, Environment/Conservation, Government/Law, Immigration/American Expansion, Literature, Maps, Performing Arts/Music, Presidents, Religion, Sports/Recreation, Technology/Industry, War/Military and Women’s History.  New collections are continually added so this is a good place to check frequently for research projects.

National Park Services’ Civil War Site

This site, created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, contains a Soldiers and Sailors database in which you can search more than 6.3 million service records. 

To access the database:

  • Scroll down the page until you come to a box which reads, Find a Person, NPS Soldier and Sailor database. 
  • Choose a category from the dropdown menu, then click Go. 
  • Next fill in as much information as you can in the search screen and click Show Results.  You will then see a results screen. 
  • Click on the name of the soldier or sailor you are researching for more information.  You may also download a spreadsheet containing all of your search results and save these on a flash drive.