Why no Minnesotan should pay to use Ancestry.com

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I recently went on a work assignment to visit the spots Twin Cities Live viewers selected as the 5 best museums in Minnesota. One of those was the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul.

Before my visit, I asked museum officials what they felt was underrated. They told me that the Gale Family Library was worth checking out. I wasn’t provided much more information, but I wanted to scope it out.

At the front desk, we asked the volunteer what we could do here. She said we could look up information (like any other library), but then she said we could use ancestry.com for free. Our jaws dropped. People pay good money for that. A monthly membership is $44.99.

So there must be a catch, right? Nope. When you arrive to the History Center, go up to the second floor. You don’t need to pay for History Center exhibits to go to the Library. If it’s your first time at the Library, bring your ID and they will give you a special Gale Family Library card.

Now, not only do they have access to ancestry.com, the computers in the Gale Family Library have access to Fold3.com, a military records database. They also have access to newspapers.com, which lets you search newspapers from Minnesota and around the world.

The Gale Family Library isn’t the only Minnesota library with free access to ancestry.com. Call your local library and check.

However, the Gale Family Library in Saint Paul also has the power of working the Minnesota Historical Society. Reference staff are on hand to help you look through birth records dating back to 1900 (when the Minnesota Department of Health began keeping duplicate records of births), church histories, death records, family histories, land records and newspaper articles. Another highlight is that you are able to do a fulltext search of the Minneapolis Tribune from 1867-2001.

While you’re there, check out the digital fire insurance maps for Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth. The old street grids and maps are very similar to the artwork you might see sold on Etsy. Those maps are just one thing you can use to document the history of your house. If you want, you could find out who lived there long before you, learning when they were born, when they died, what they did for a living and more.

The Gale Family Library and the Minnesota Historical Society are accepting your artifacts for their database. From high school yearbooks to church directories, click here to tell them what you have.

Some of the services I mentioned above can be accessed from your house, although you do need to go to the Gale Family Library to use ancestry.com and Fold3. Click here for the Minnesota People Records Search and research guides.

Here’s a quick glimpse inside the Gale Family Library. The video is produced by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Gale Family Library
Inside the Minnesota History Center, 2nd floor
345 West Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102

Tuesdays: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Wednesdays – Saturdays: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Closed Sundays, Mondays and major holidays

reference@mnhs.org
mnhs.org/library

Know before you go:

  • Photos of most evidence is allowed
  • On your first visit, you must present a photo ID
  • You must use pencil (no pens)
  • No jackets, backpacks or purses are allowed; they can be left in a locker which requires a $.25 deposit, which is returned when the locker is opened
  • No food or beverages are allowed
  • Laptops are allowed
  • Copy services are available; copies of most items cost $.20 a page
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