Getting Started with Genealogy Research

If you’re just getting started with genealogy research at Herrick District Library, welcome! Below, we’ve compiled some tips and tricks to help you make the most of our collection:

Vital Records and Census:

Vital records include information about major life events (birth, death, marriage, etc…). These are most often collected by a government authority. HDL has vital records for many of the cities and townships in our service area. These can be found in both print and on microfilm, patrons can browse on-site in the genealogy section at HDL’s main branch.

HDL has census records on microfilm, but most of this is also available (and easily searchable) online at:

Ancestry Library Edition (on-site at HDL only)

MyHeritage (on-site at HDL only)

American Ancestors (on-site at HDL only)

Family Search


If you’re having trouble finding birth or death dates for one of your ancestors, cemetery records can help. HDL has a collection of cemetery transcripts, which list names and dates for people interred at local burial grounds. These can be particularly helpful for gravestones that are no longer legible due to pollution and age.

Another useful cemetery resource is, which has transcriptions and photographs of gravestones in cemeteries across the country.


Most obituaries printed in the Holland Sentinel between the mid-1900s through 2003, have been digitized via  Obituaries printed in wither the Holland Sentinel or the Holland City News between 1872-2022 are available via microfilm on-site at HDL’s main library.

City Directories:

One useful resource for learning about a properties, such as a newly-purchased home, are the Holland City directories. HDL has volumes dating back as far as 1894. City directories list addresses along with property owners, residents, and often places of employment.

Some directories for locations outside of Holland can be found on Ancestry Library Edition and MyHeritage. HDL patrons can access both of these subscription-based websites for free while on HDL property.

Military Records:

Information about local veterans can be found in HDL’s Military section in the genealogy area.

Here are some other resources for looking up ancestors in the military:

Revolutionary War Resources

Civil War Resources

World War I & II Resources

DAR Library Online

Church Records:

HDL does not own church records, but here are a few suggestions regarding where to look:

Calvin University – Christian Reformed Church of America Archives

Reformed Church of America Archives

Holland Museum

Hope Archives and Special Collections

Family Trees:

Many genealogy researchers want to build a family tree, to visualize how ancestors were related over time. There are templates that you can print off the internet, such as this one from .

Some websites allow users to populate their family trees based on other people’s research (Ex: Family Search and Ancestry Library Edition). While these can be useful when getting started, it’s best to search these trees with a level of caution. Trust your own research over the research of someone else on the internet. Auto-populated family trees online are notorious for being full of errors, especially the further back you go into history.

Professional Genealogists:

If you get stuck and decide it’s time to employ a professional, you can look into hiring one from the Association of Professional Genealogists. It’s best to find someone who knows your area well. A local genealogist will likely know of local resources that someone from further away would not, such as the Holland Museum, the Joint Archives and local history groups.

Global Genealogy:

If you're interested in researching specific heritage groups, try looking through the resources in these staff lists:

Black & African American Genealogy Resources

Native American and Indigenous Genealogy Resources

Dutch Genealogy Resources

International Genealogy Resources

Hispanic and Latine Genealogy Resources

Land Records:

  • Some Holland area plat maps are available at HDL’s main library, but more are also available at the Holland Museum.
  • Ottawa County Register of Deeds: 12220 Fillmore Street, West Olive, MI (616) 994-4510. These records are free to search by anyone. Copies are $1.00 per page. Photos are not allowed. Records here begin in approximately 1946.    
  • For older land records for Ottawa County, go to the Ottawa County Courthouse, 414 Washington, Grand Haven, MI (616) 846-8109. Mortgages and deeds on properties are available beginning in 1832. There are also a few records available before that date. These records will not tell you when a house was built.  
  • Allegan County Register of Deeds: 113 Chestnut St., Allegan, MI (269) 673-0390. Records held here begin in 1835.

Other resources:

Local Newspapers (blog)

Zeeland Historical Society

Library of Michigan

National Archives

Books and Movies:

Great Courses: Genealogy Series (via Hoopla)

Your Genealogy Today (magazine)

Internet Genealogy (magazine)

Family Tree Magazine (magazine)

Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians (book)

Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records (book)

Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques (book)