by Megan M. Isely, La Crosse Public Library Archives
While Ancestry is the “big kahuna” of online genealogy resources in terms of name recognition and resources, Ancestry does not have everything and there are other fish in the genealogical sea. HeritageQuest Online, provided by library vendor ProQuest, provides several databases that the library version of Ancestry does not have.
HeritageQuest has several databases that provide an index and digital images of the actual materials. Selected Revolutionary War pension files and bounty land warrant applications are valuable sources that can help a person prove the Revolutionary War service of an ancestor, often a goal of genealogists. The Freedman’s Bank was a bank set up for post-Civil War freed African Americans. These records can help a person identify information about their ancestors at a time when few records about African Americans were available, because those who applied for accounts were asked for their birth information and parents’ names.
The U. S. Serial Set is a record of acts of Congress which includes private acts. The United States was a smaller country at that time and private acts were relief acts for the benefit of an individual. Widow Smith gets her pension based on her husband’s military service, even though she can’t quite fulfill all of the requirements to prove his service (there is no written record because of the destruction in Washington D. C. during the War of 1812, and all the old boy’s comrades in service are dead so she can’t find anyone to testify to his service, but everyone in the neighborhood, including the Congressman, knows he served).
Another database that includes digital images is made up of older books of local history and family history, that can be searched full text for names or places. Many counties and states published local histories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that can often provide biographical details and valuable local history information. Family histories were also published during this time period that could include information gained from persons alive at the time. These books can be valuable genealogy sources, but because they are often held in library reference collections access to them can be difficult.
HeritageQuest uses PDF images that can be read by Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader so they are easy to use for libraries and patrons. HeritageQuest also allows library users to access their collection from home if the library, or library system, is a subscriber as is the case in Wisconsin, through Badgerlink.
HeritageQuest also has the PERSI index, an index to articles in all kinds of genealogical publications from large national and state journals to local publications by local county or area societies. Local societies often publish indexes and abstracts of valuable local records (like indexes to marriages or probate records) so these can be valuable resources for people searching for genealogy records and information. PERSI is an index only so copies of articles need to be sought via interlibrary loan.
One key resource for genealogy searching is census records. Ancestry also provides census records but through Badgerlink, Wisconsin library users can access HeritageQuest’s census records on their home computers. Census records help locate a person’s ancestor in a particular place and time so that more local records can be identified, as well as provide other clues. In the United States the census is taken every ten years, starting in 1790. Early censuses only listed the name of the head of the household and identified other members by age, gender, and (sometimes) race. Starting in 1850 every name in the household was listed and more information appears on later censuses. The 1890 census was destroyed and the most current census available on HeritageQuest is the 1930 census. At this point there does not seem to be any movement from ProQuest to add 1940 census records to HeritageQuest.
While HeritageQuest has images of all the U. S. census records through 1930, not all censuses in HeritageQuest are indexed. Anything not indexed can be browsed. HeritageQuest only indexes the name of the head of the household of the census but sometimes their index works when Ancestry’s does not because it was created by different indexers.
The La Crosse Public Library website has some guides to genealogy searching that were prepared by Archives staff. Go to http://http://www.lacrosselibrary.org/genealogy/index.asp and scroll down to the bottom of the page. There are some genealogy guides there, including a guide to HeritageQuest. Printable copies of all the guides are available in PDF format. ProQuest, the vendor that supplies both Ancestry and HeritageQuest to libraries, has a collection of PDF formatted guides available at http://www.il.proquest.com/en-US/support/training/materials.shtml and at http://proquest.com/en-US/promos/ALE/Genealogy_Research_Tools.shtml. You’ll find guides to many ProQuest databases besides Ancestry and HeritageQuest.
HeritageQuest provides easy access to a wide variety of useful genealogy databases. Even so, online information is only a small fraction of what is available offline. HeritageQuest is a great starting place and it can help point people to locations where they can find more information. Badgerlink access allows HeritageQuest to be available to anyone in Wisconsin at home or at their library.