Genealogy Tutorial

The Basics | Our Collection | Federal Census Records | Electronic Resources | Internet Searching | Our Services | Vital Records | Contact Us

This tutorial will assist you in your quest for genealogical information. You will learn how to use our online library catalog, electronic genealogical databases, how to find records such as birth, death, and marriage announcements, estate records, wills, etc. Included in this guide are links to outside agencies that provide genealogical research and information, as well as some of the most useful internet sources for genealogical research.

The Basics

What is a family tree? Many beginning researchers come to the library and ask, “where can I look up my family tree?”. The answer is that family trees are pieced together by YOU, and are not tucked away somewhere in a magical book. This defines the hobby of genealogy research. There would be no need for census records, marriage certificates, or online research sites if the work had already been done for you.  Genealogy research and compiling a family tree is a long process. There are, of course, lucky researchers who find that one of their own distant family members has already compiled a genealogy on their own family! BUT– this is a rare exception! (Still, it’s always worth it to do a little investigating and find out what may have already been compiled about your family.) You can get started by interviewing your living family members and writing down as much information as you can gather about your family. Even better, make an audio or video recording so that you don’t miss anything, then go back and listen to the recording and make your notes from it. It is always a good idea to inquire about the existence of family scrapbooks, Bibles, photo albums, etc., because these may help reveal more family information than your relative may be able to remember offhand. Use an ancestral chart, otherwise known as a pedigree chart, to record family information. You may download and print an ancestral chart from By taking these steps, you have now become an amateur genealogist.

Books recommended for beginners:

Click on the title to check availability and/or reserve for yourself at Steele.

Tracing your Family History: the Complete Guide by Lise Hull – Call # 929.1072 H913

Family History 101 by Marcia Melnyk – Call # 929.1 M527

Family Tree Problem Solver by Marcia Rising – Call # 929.1 R595

The Organized Family Historian by Ann Fleming – Call # 929.1072 F597

Click Here to search for more books on Genealogy

General research assistance:

You may always contact us by telephone or e-mail should you need further assistance. See contact information at the bottom of this page.

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Our Collection

Books: The Steele Memorial Library houses many valuable genealogical resources. We have countless family, town, county, and state histories. Many genealogists donate their compiled genealogies to us, so we always have a growing collection. Our book collection covers mainly, but is certainly not limited to, New York state information and a large collection of information covering Pennsylvania and New England states. To see a sampling of the books we house in the Genealogy Department, see our Genealogy Collection.

Microfilm/Microfiche: Aside from a large collection of census records, we also have local newspapers and other various information in microfilm/fiche format. See our Genealogy Collection for a listing.

Obituaries/birth records/marriage announcements: We have the Elmira newspapers (Star-Gazette and The Chemung Valley Reporter) back to 1835. Currently our marriage and death indexes from 1830 are incomplete.

Cemetery Listings: We have cemetery books for the following areas:

Chemung County, NY (complete, except for St. Peter & Paul’s cemetery)
Schuyler County, NY (most)
Steuben County, NY (most)
Bradford County, PA (most)
Tompkins County, NY (some)
Seneca County, NY (some)
Yates County, NY (some)
Ulster County, NY (some)
Luthers Mills Cemetery, Luthers Mills, PA
Evergreen Cemetery, Spencer, NY
Maplewood Cemetery, Little Meadows, PA

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Federal Census Records

Steele Memorial Library houses federal census records from 1790 through 1880 on microfilm for every state of the nation. Census years more recent than 1880 are available for New York and Pennsylvania only (1900, 1910, 1920, 1930).

It is important to note that the 1890 federal census records were destroyed in a fire in the Commerce Department Building in Washington, D.C. in January 1921. Therefore, 1890 census records do not exist. There have been special censuses created in some cases to compensate for the lack of the 1890 census.

Indexes: In order to locate a particular name on the census, an index of names is very useful! Without an index, a lot of trial and error searching is required. Click here for a complete listing of the census index books we have here at Steele. The index includes the name of the head of the household that appears on the census, their age, sex, birthplace, county in which they live, city/town/township, page number, and census roll number.

Soundex: The soundex is a coded surname (last name) index based on the way a surname sounds rather than the way it is spelled. Surnames that sound the same, but are spelled differently, like SMITH and SMYTH, have the same code and are filed together. The soundex coding system was developed so that you can find a surname even though it may have been recorded under various spellings. To search for a particular surname, you must first work out its code. The Soundex Calculator is an online tool that allows you to type in the surname and the calculates the code for you.  Click here for an explanation of the soundex system from the National Archives website.  Here at Steele, we have the soundex on microfilm for NY and PA, years 1880 and 1900.

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Electronic Resources

HeritageQuest Online® (a ProQuest® company) is a web based genealogical database available through paid subscription . Steele Library card holders may access this database through the HQOnline link from our Genealogy Links page. At locations outside the library, you will be required to type in your library card number to access the site.

HQOnline is a genealogical database that has been specifically designed for public libraries. It currently offers the following:

  • U.S. federal censuses from 1790 through 1930
  • Over 20,000 downloadable titles of local and family histories
  • Indexed and searchable census records for 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1870, 1890, 1910, and 1920 Census page images can be viewed and printed from HQOnline. Family and local history books are also available as full text images. The census years that have been indexed (see above) are searchable, but the others can only be browsed by selecting a census year, state, county, township, etc; When we say that the indexed years are searchable, this means that one is able to type in the name of a person and the database will search the indexed records for that name. is another subscription genealogical database available for in library use at the Steele Memorial Library. Ancestry® offers a lot of full text census information, as well as a wealth of other genealogical information. The site has message boards that members can post queries and family information to, as well as searchable marriage, death, and birth announcements for certain areas, immigration records, civil war records and more.

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Internet Searching

There are numerous genealogy web sites out there on the internet. Many of them are free and have searchable databases of surnames, family information, and more. Another feature of many of these sites are message boards. Message boards allow people to register to the site and then post messages, questions, and send out general queries to others who are registered. This allows people searching for information on their family to interact with other people across the country, and even across the world, who may have the information they are looking for. Many family ties between people are discovered this way! It is a great way to try to fill in the gaps in your own research and perhaps offer some insight to other researchers at the same time.

These free sites do NOT provide access to official records. In other words, you will not find immigration records, military records, birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc; on these sites. These records are available through specific agencies for a fee and are not accessible online or through the library. Please see Obtaining Vital and Other Records for a further explanation and advice on obtaining records.  Sites such as RootsWeb and Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, are among our recommended sites. Also see Cyndi’s List for a comprehensive listing of genealogical web sites and their decriptions. See our Genealogy Links page for more web site links, site descriptions, and useful genealogy information online.

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Our Services

The Steele Memorial Library does conduct genealogical research. See the Submit a Query page for information on research requests and rates.

Group tours of the department and/or individual training in the use of electronic resources are available by appointment. Please use the contact information at the bottom of this page. Workshops and classes are often offered at no cost. Visit the District Calendar for upcoming events or programs.

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Obtaining vital and other records

There are several ways to obtain vital records in New York State. The best, fastest, most inexpensive way to get records are at town/county clerks or local vital statistics bureaus, depending upon where those records are kept for a specific locale in NY. NY state vital records can be obtained through the NY State Department of Health in Albany, but the process is much slower. See the NY State Department of Health Vital Records for Genealogy page for details. If you are uncertain of the location of an event (birth, death, marriage) and therefore don’t know which particular office the record is housed in, then you would need to send your request to Albany.

There is a wonderful and helpful web site called United States Vital Records Information at where you can search by state, county, town, etc; for information on where to obtain records, costs, availability of records, mailing addresses and more. You may also search by record type (birth, marriage, death, divorce).

Some, but not all, counties in NY state have a Bureau of Vital Statistics (often housed in the County Clerk’s office) where some vital records can be obtained. See to find out if a particular county in NY has a vital statistics bureau. Contact information, useful links, individual office addresses, and cost information is also provided for each county.

Other official records in Chemung County

Chemung County Vital Records
103 Washington Street
PO Box 588
Elmira, NY 14901
phone: (607)737-2018

For records of Births and Deaths that occurred in Chemung County.

Chemung County Clerk
210 Lake Street
PO Box 588
Elmira, NY 14902-0588
Phone: (607) 737-2920

Records include:
-Criminal records
-Civil records (divorces-sealed)
-Land records (deeds, mortgages,
terms of agreement)
-Marriage records (licenses): 1908-1936
-Naturalization records
-Adoption records (sealed)

Chemung County Surrogate’s Court
Hazlett Building
203-205 Lake St.
Post Office Box 588
Elmira, NY 14902-0588
Phone: 607-873-9440
Fax: 646-963-6606

Records include:
-Estate records
-Guardianship papers

In Chemung County, marriage records (licenses) Prior to 1908 (back to late 1880s) and after 1936 are available at the local Town Clerk for the Town where the marriage license was obtained.

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Contact us

For research inquiries, department information, or any other questions you may have, please e-mail the reference department or (607) 733-9175.