Note: The John Parker Library and FamilySearch Center may be temporarily closed or have modified hours due to COVID-19. If you are visiting the museum specifically for this resource, we recommend calling Guest Services at (513) 333-7500 for the most recent updates.
Visit our FamilySearch Center located on the fourth floor of the Freedom Center. Volunteers will provide free, personalized assistance in tracing your family tree. The library is open to everyone, from beginners to advanced genealogists.
Library and FamilySearch Center hours
Tuesday - Saturday
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Entry is included with general admission. Appointments are available, but not required. For questions or appointments, give us a call at (513) 333-7654.
This FamilySearch Center is presented in partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Each family holds many stories
What will you discover? You have four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great grandparents—there are a lot of potential stories! Some could have been prominent citizen in their communities. Other will be difficult to learn about, and odds are good that a few made some bad life decisions or have a tragic story—try to respect them all. Aspiring to find a collection of impressive ancestors is not always the best end goal. Instead, we honor our ancestors by learning to live in a way that reflects well on them.
Preparing for your visit
Volunteers will help you organize your information and will show you how to search census records, the Social Security Death index, and other record groups. They will also suggest future searches you can conduct on your own. While you don't necessarily need to prepare for your visit in advance, bringing some preliminary information with you will enhance your experience:
- Names, maiden names, birth dates and death dates of your grandparents and great-grandparents
- Ask your relatives for any family stories or folklore.
Visiting this center is a great place to get started with family research. If you can't visit in person, here are some tools to get you started...
General Research Tips
You’ll get the best understanding of the lives of your ancestors by combining oral history with public records research and local history about the place your ancestors lived. So try different avenues of research: talk to an elderly aunt, post a query to an electronic bulletin board, join a local historical society, visit your state archives, place flowers on an ancestor’s grave. The more you look, the more you will discover.
Remember to keep a record of your work – a simple notebook is fine. Note the dates of interviews with family members, and keep complete citations (author, title, etc.) for any books and articles you consult. And if you want to use a computer program to keep track of your data, you can download a FREE program called “Personal Ancestral File” from FamilySearch.org.
Tips for Collecting Family Oral History
- Don’t worry right now about “how far back you can get”— start with what you already know, write it down, and gradually work back to earlier generations.
- Seek out old photographs for clues to direct your search.
- The best source of family history is always family. Interview your parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Remember that your family is larger than you think – your parents’ first cousins will also have information about earlier generations.
- If you have a very elderly relative, don’t wait to talk until next year. Even when people are healthy, memories fade.
- Have pencils (to easily correct) and plenty of paper handy to take notes.
- For in-person interviews, make sure your relative is comfortable. Take notes and record the conversation if possible. Be aware that video cameras make some feel people self-conscious, so they may not open up as quickly.
- Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Need ideas? Download a list of sample history questions below.
- If the person you are interviewing starts to become defensive or upset, do not press them – change the subject to more comfortable territory.
- Pay attention to small details, like names of places and distant cousins.
- After your interview, type out a detailed summary of what you learned. Do this right away while the interview is fresh in your mind—there may be portions of the notes or recording which are unclear
- Be aware that it is unusual to get the best stories from your first interview. Reflect on what you learn, discuss with other family members, and then set up a follow-up conversation!
What if nobody in my family knows much about the family’s history?
Your family may be larger than you think: ask your close relatives if they have any cousins they haven’t spoken to recently, and ask for phone numbers or addresses. If you contact your parents’ first cousins, odds are very good that at least one of them will have interesting personal reminiscences, or family photos, or old letters, or the beginnings of a family tree. Often this is information you would never be able to learn in any other way, and far more valuable than anything you could find on the internet.
Where do I find public records?
County courthouses keep deeds, wills, and some marriage records. Each state has a vital records office with birth and death certificates and marriage and divorce records. The federal government has military service files, naturalization records, Social Security applications (which are public for deceased persons), and Native American resources. Most public records are not yet on the internet – but some are. These include the records of the U.S. Census Bureau – a gold mine for genealogists. Census records from 1930 and prior decades are available on several websites, including Ancestry.com.
How can I use libraries and archives in my research?
Visit the county-seat library in the county where your ancestors lived. They may have books of cemetery inscriptions, old city directories, historic newspapers (with obituaries), local histories, maps, and a lot more (Tip: the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has one of the finest genealogical collections in the United States).
The largest collection of genealogical records in the world is housed at the main FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Most of this collection is on microfilm, and any roll of microfilm in the vault at Salt Lake can be sent out to a FamilySearch Center near you (The John Parker Library at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is included in this system). To search the catalog of available microfilms and check out more FamilySearch Center locations, visit FamilySearch.org and click on the “FamilySearch Centers” tab.
Can Freedom Center staff help me with specific genealogy or research questions?
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center staff are not available to assist with individual research requests. However, our FamilySearch volunteers are happy to assist you with general genealogy and underground railroad history research in person or by phone at (513) 333-7654.
Can I use the Freedom Center's Underground Railroad records for my research?
The museum does not currently hold any records documenting individual conductors or safe houses that were part of the Underground Railroad. Due to the secretive and dangerous nature of participating in this network, few physical documents still exist today. In many cases, the best way to gather this type of information is by reading books, collecting oral histories or contacting your state, county or local historical society.