Research Your Genealogy with Resources from HCLS

The picture depicts an old book, with underlining and notes in the margins, and a vintage black and white photograph of a young woman standing on a bench in front of a ship.

By Rebecca W.

Remember when genealogy records first started popping up online? When you were finally able to research those mysterious New England ancestors without actually driving to New England, or even worse, calling someone on the telephone? And then remember how you jumped on your computer and, within hours, had a complete record of your family tree? Yah, me neither… But recently, with a little extra time on my hands, I got the itch to give it a try. After a number of – let’s face it – failed attempts, I can confidently report that I’ve caught the “genealogy bug.”

So, what brought on this sudden urge to research? Free, I repeat FREE, access to genealogy records through HCLS. If you’re anything like me (a total cheapskate), you just can’t turn down free. Though these resources have always been offered by our system, a limited time offer from ProQuest for at-home access to Ancestry.com library edition (previously available only in the branches) makes now the perfect time to start for all of our cardholders. 

Ancestry.com is truly a great resource for genealogy research, but it can easily lead a novice down the wrong path. So where to start? Well, I decided to search the names of random ancestors without a whole lot of other information. I did not have an organized plan of attack. My suggestion: start with a timeline. I mean a physical timeline. Not, “oh, I have an idea in my head,” or “yah, I know when so-and-so was born.” Check out Ancestry’s “Creating Timelines that Produce Answers Guide” to see best practices for using your timeline, including evaluating sources and tracking your ancestor’s migrations (from the Ancestry.com homepage, click Learning Center and scroll to the Getting Started section). 

Now, my number one piece of advice… check multiple sources! You will be surprised at how many birth certificates, marriage records, draft registration cards, you name it, will look like they fit into your family tree, but are actually unrelated. If you think you found the marriage certificate for your great-grandparents, make sure you can cross-check a solid number of facts on there. Do you have another source that verifies their age when the certificate was issued? Is their place of birth listed on the marriage record? Do you have a birth certificate to back that up? What about their parents’ names? You get my point: never take a source at face value. 

While there is a bit of a learning curve to genealogical research, these online tools really help with the heavy lifting. With just a day of searching, I was able to find information on my family tree that my relatives didn’t even know. Hopefully this post sparked a little curiosity and you are ready to start your search. Make sure to look at all of the HCLS genealogy research tools, including MyHeritage, HeritageQuest, and Gale Genealogy Connect. While Ancestry.com is a robust and popular resource, these other online tools can help fill in the gaps you are bound to encounter. Happy searching! 

Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

The Magic Words: Free SAT Practice Tests!

The picture depicts a student writing in a notebook while looking at an open laptop computer.

By Piyali C.

I heaved a sigh of relief as I parked my car. I think you will agree, finding parking in a high school parking lot on a Back to School Night is a sheer stroke of luck. I did a mental check as I walked towards the high school carrying my bag of library goodies. Did I have all that I needed? Howard County Library System’s tablecloth? Check. HCLS pens to give out as gifts? Check. Brochures with library information? Check. Little giveaways with the library logo? Check. I was ready. With a deep breath and a bright smile, I entered the high school. I was going to represent HCLS in one of our local high school’s Back to School Nights, to inform the community about how we supplement students’ academic pursuits by providing free databases for research. It’s a fond memory and one I hope to experience again soon.

I was ready! National History Day research? No problem: we have curated a whole set of databases for that endeavor. Having trouble finding primary sources? We can help. You need a last minute resource for the paper due next day? We can tell you where to find it. The magic lies in your library card and your PIN number. Once you have that, the world is your oyster. If you do not have a library card, never fear. You can sign up for a temporary card to access our databases right away. To create a temporary library card, click here.

As I set up the table and spread out library goodies along the hall of the high school, I was approached by a harried parent, “Can you tell me where Room 113 is?” After being asked directions to rooms three times in a row, I armed myself with a map of the school and, like a very efficient human GPS, directed people to their desired classrooms. After the initial chaos settled down, I turned the full force of my winning smile on an unsuspecting parent with her reluctant teen and told her I was from the library. Would she be interested in hearing about how her student can take practice SAT exams on library database for free? That was it! I had said the magic words, “practice SAT.” After that, I never looked back.

Parents swarmed around me as teens looked on, bored. I explained our databases for homework help – LearningExpress Library and Testing & Education Reference Center – with glee. Physical copies of SAT prep books fly off of the branch shelves. But with LearningExpress Library, you will never have to wait!

Even without being at school in person, I still want to tell you about all the amazing ways the library can help prepare teens for standardized testing. It is always a good idea to start at the beginning: How to find these magical databases. First, click on to our website: http://hclibrary.org/

On the top right hand corner you will find the option, “How do I…” Hover over it.

You will see some options, and the sixth one from the top will be “Get Homework Assistance.” Click on it.

If you scroll down through the databases, the fourth one is LearningExpress Library. You will need your library card and PIN number to access the database.

LearningExpress Library provides interactive online practice tests in a variety of academic and career-related areas. These include advanced placement tests, GED tests, college entrance exams (ACT and SAT), and job-related qualification tests in areas such as nursing, the military, real estate, and a variety of public safety fields.

Instructions on how to use LearningExpress Library can be found here.

Right under LearningExpress Library is Testing & Education Reference Center.

Testing & Education Reference Center offers practice question sets for grades 6-12 in math, science, reading, and writing, as well as practice AP exams and private school admissions tests for high school students. Prepare for college with test prep eBooks for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT, and use the scholarship and college search tools to help select a college. Study for and practice taking graduate school entrance exams, occupational exams, the TOEFL, and the U.S. Citizenship test. 

Instructions on how to use Testing & Education Reference Center can be found here

Now that I have written about my favorite databases for students, I invite you to explore them, familiarize yourselves, and take the tests. Get out your library card, type your PIN, and voilà, you are ready to take on those standardized tests because you have practiced hard on our free databases. Good luck! And remember, we are here to help you succeed every step of the way – even while practicing social distancing and online learning.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Consumer Reports Online

By Eric L.

Often, when I give customers an overview of Howard County Library System’s resources, people are surprised by all that we offer online. As I show them the brochure, I explain that among the other great databases and online resources, they can access Consumer Reports through hclibrary.org with their library card and pin number. They are normally flabbergasted (maybe a strong adjective).  

To get started, browse by Resource Category on the HCLS Now! Research page of our website. You’ll find Consumer Reports listed under Consumer Ratings & Reviews.

To be sure, this is full access to the Consumer Reports website, just like an individual subscription except for the ability to customize the account (sorry, it’s the library’s account). Researching even the smallest purchase through Consumer Reports is prudent, especially since your only cost is  time. You can even print the wonderful charts they include in the magazine for their product reviews. A couple was delighted when I showed them this feature. After reviewing the charts online, and printing them, they changed their mind concerning the brand X washing machine. Personally, I recently read all about the mattress in a box trend. I learned, opted for one of the “best buys,” and now I’m sleeping better. 

My significant other, a nurse currently working with COVID-19 positive patients in the ICU, decided to take up the automobile dealers on their offers of special savings for medical professionals, along with other incentives. After she did the research on the type of car in which she was interested, she used the Consumer Reports “Build & Buy Car Buying Service.” This feature allows you to build the car by selecting the model color, options, etc. You can even view the current incentives (e.g. cash back, special financing) on the vehicle. There are pricing charts, some local dealer inventory and pricing, and user reviews. (My words really don’t do justice to the interface, graphics, and ease of use).

If you’re willing to provide your email, phone number, and address, you can view more specific inventor and receive “personalized” offers from “True Car” certified dealers you’ve selected. The caveat here is that dealerships may contact you quickly. However, let me highlight that you’ve not gone to the automobile dealership, and I’d contend that’s a good thing! 

Consumer Reports even has an article concerning how to buy a car at home and spend less time at the dealership during the pandemic. There’s no commitment and nothing that would prevent you from contacting other local dealers to see if they’d match these offers. 

Sadly, it’s not possible to peruse the Consumer Reports magazines at the library at this time, but I’d still like everyone to remain an informed consumer. 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.