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Genealogy Help

Tracing your family tree? Begin here.

How to Research

• Begin with yourself and move backwards by generation (known to the unknown). Write an autobiography and include people who have influenced your life.

• List all the details you know about everyone in your immediate family (siblings, parents)—names, relationships, birthdays, divorces, marriages, deaths, immigration, naturalization, places lived, siblings, and children. This is your family group sheet.

• Add your grandparents and all the details you know about them to your family group sheet.

• Create a family tree chart to accompany the family group sheet; this helps identify areas that need to be researched and can prevent researching the wrong family (individuals who share the same surname but are not related to you).

• Create a list of all personal documents you have in your possession—drivers' licenses, birth certificates, diplomas, awards, marriage certificates, death certificates, etc. (anything that reveals something about your life and your family). 

Search for More Information at Home

Check your home and with other family members to locate valuable items that can help in your research: Baby books, family Bibles, certificates, letters, journals, photographs, diplomas, newspaper clippings, school records, yearbooks, etc.

Talk to Family Members

Interview older relatives to help fill in the blanks in your family tree and family group sheet. This is also an opportunity to learn your family members' stories and memories. If possible, record interviews using audio or video devices. Additionally, these relatives may possess important documents such as photographs, birth certificates, family Bibles, etc.

Search U.S. Census Reports

The U.S. Census records are accessible through the library using Ancestry (in-library use only) and HeritageQuest. The U.S. Census includes most Americans in the population schedule counts from 1790 through 1950. Census records list family members as a group and include personal data. Some examples of information found in the census are: heads of household, ages, members of a house, places of birth, addresses, and immigration data. For privacy reasons, the U.S. Census closes population schedules for 72 years.

Find Vital Records

Vital records include birth, marriage, and death records, which are kept by state and local governments. Access to these records varies by county and agencies may charge a fee for access or copies. Death records list the place and date of death as well as the place and date of birth and/or marriage. Other vital records may be more difficult to obtain because of privacy laws.

Keep a Research Log

Keep a notebook listing your sources: Record the titles, page numbers, and dates of every source. This will save time in future searches.

Online Resources

Use these free tools to research your ancestors. Log in with your Vernon Area Public Library card. Or visit the library for free access (no library card required).


Local History Collection

The library offers a collection of memoirs and individual histories of residents of Lake County. It includes:

• index for the local history collection (REF 977.304 IND)

• oral histories of prominent early residents

• Lake County historical maps

• newspaper clippings

For more information, ask at the Adult Desk, call 224-543-1485, or email

Early Settlers Certificates

The Lake County Illinois Genealogical Society issues Early Settler Certificates to the direct descendants of those who settled in Lake County between 1839 and 1910. Application forms and fees can be found here.

Genealogy Tip of the Day

Research tips from experienced genealogy researcher Michael John Neill.

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Blog Finder

Use the Genealogy Blog Finder to locate information relevant to your research.