Family History Resources

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Discover your family history

We have tools to help you research your family, both locally and around the world. This guide lists databases provided by the Grand Rapids Public Library, along with local indexes and resources.

Home access to the subscription databases is limited to Grand Rapids Public Library cardholders only. Sign up for a library card here.

Books at the Grand Rapids History Center

Most genealogy research starts with online databases, but books are still a valuable resource. Our collections include genealogy books and magazines for the United States, with a focus on the Midwest, Northeast and South. Books must be used on-site.

Genealogy Databases

*American Ancestors, opens a new window (Library Use Only)
From the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

*Ancestry Library Edition, opens a new window (Library Use Only)
Billions of international genealogy records.

FamilySearch, opens a new window (Affiliate Library)
World's largest collection of free family trees and genealogy records. Free to use after you create an account. Tip: Affiliate Library records are available on Library computers only.

*Fold3, opens a new window (Main Library Only)
U.S. military records, including stories, photos, and personal documents.

*MyHeritage, opens a new window
Billions of historical documents spanning the past five centuries.

Thanks to our friends at the Western Michigan Genealogical Society for their support of these resources.

Online Resources from GRPL

Woman's Committee of Council of National Defense cards, opens a new window - registration cards for women who volunteered for war service during World War I.

Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Lodge 48, opens a new window - obituary cards written for members.

Genealogy Resources in the Archives

See our Archival Resources page, opens a new window for a complete listing of our collections or visit our search interface., opens a new window

Local Government Records

Grand Rapids City Cemeteries
Search for burials by cemetery, under Locations and Maps

Grand Rapids City Archives and Records Center, opens a new window
City records, including court records; and Grand Rapids Public Schools records

Kent County Clerk
Birth, marriage, and death records for Kent County

Kent County Courthouse, Clerk of the Court, opens a new window
Divorce and family legal records

Zhang Legacy Collections Center, opens a new window
Located at Western Michigan University. Holds public records from counties and townships in Southwestern Michigan, including Kent County Circuit Court records., opens a new window

Local Web Resources

Obituary Index
Index of obituaries from Grand Rapids newspapers, 1910-present

Western Michigan Genealogy Society databases
Indexes to thousands of local records from the Western Michigan Genealogical Society

Kent County GenWeb
Biographies, indexes, cemetery records, and more.

Michigan Resources

Library of Michigan, opens a new window
Family history guide to resources from the state library.

Michiganology
From the Archives of Michigan, includes death certificates, opens a new window, state census records, opens a new window, and more.

Closed Adoption Agency Records
Closed adoption agencies in Michigan and who holds their records.

Michigan Biographical Index
A cumulative index to names listed in books and periodicals.

Genealogy Guides and Classes

There's a lot to learn in genealogy, here are some places to get started.

FAQs

  • The Grand Rapids History Center collects, preserves, and shares the history of our community, through photographs, diaries, posters, maps and other records. You can research your house, your family, a business, or your neighborhood. Staff are ready to assist you with your research needs, whether it be finding material on our shelves, tips on where to start, or with navigating our archival collections. We’re here to help you explore at your own pace. You may drop in at any time, or you can contact us ahead of time with questions. If you’re traveling from out of town, we recommend that you check in with us before your visit (but it isn’t required). The Grand Rapids History Center is located on level four of the Main Library, and is open the same hours.  Please note that while covered beverages are allowed on other floors of the library, no food or beverages (including water) are permitted on level four.
  • Contact us with details of your research request. We’re happy to answer quick questions and provide suggestions for further research. Due to the time and staff resources involved in researching answers to local history, genealogy, and furniture questions, some fees apply to certain types of requests. We encourage researchers to come to our library to be assisted for free.

    Family history queries can also be submitted to the Western Michigan Genealogical Society research committee.

  • We love when people use and share images from our archives. Our digital collections were designed with sharing in mind and if you find content that you would like to download and share, you are welcome to do so. If you do, we ask that you please let people know that it came from the Grand Rapids Public Library, so others may find it as well.

    There are some fees that apply to scanning and using images. If the content is not available through our digital collections, there is a $5 processing fee per image. If you would like to include an image in a published book or use it for commercial purposes (such as selling a t-shirt or creating artwork for a restaurant or office), there is a use fee of $15 per image. For additional information and to order images, please visit our order form.

    There are also exceptions for content where the copyright is held by someone else. In those instances, you need to seek permission from the copyright holder. In our digital collections we use RightsStatements.org categories to share, to the best of our knowledge, if content is in the public domain or under copyright. 

  • You can search our finding aids here. When you arrive, you will fill out a request card for each folder or box. The request card asks for your name and contact information, and the location of the material you would like to view (usually a collection number, box number and folder number). You may have one box or five folders at your table at a time.  All materials are stored on-site. If you would like any guidance in searching or in preparing your requests, please contact us.  

  • We are always looking for items to tell the story of our community, from the recent past to the 1800s. If you have unique books, papers, letters, scrapbooks or photographs you think would contribute to this cause, please contact us.

    If you are interested in making a monetary donation, please contact the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation.

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