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Let National Geographic Enrich your Family History

National Geographic magazine has been around for over 110 years. This magazine has captured the world's history and historical events through pictures and information they have collected. By searching through back issues of National Geographic, you might be able to recapture some old memories.


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National Geographic magazine has been around for over 110 years. This magazine has captured the world's history and historical events through pictures and information it has collected. Possibly you remember your grandmother talking about a hotel she stayed in during the early 1900s in Austin, Texas or Cleveland, Ohio. By searching through back issues of National Geographic, you might be able to find a picture of that historic hotel you still have pictured in your mind and that your grandmother told you about. Here is how to do it:

National Geographic was established in 1888 in Washington D. C., and Gardiner Greene Hubbard was the first President. Green was the father-in- law of Alexander Graham Bell. The first issue came out in October of that year. History tells us that the articles were brief and not very interesting. In 1898 Alexander Graham Bell took over the magazine, and within a short time there were 11 pages of pictures. These wonderful pictures in National Geographic have continued throughout history depicting historical events of the world, natural science, ethnic communities, and the building of America.

To begin your search of a topic, you might start by selecting a broad topic of your particular interest. Such examples might include: WWII in the Pacific, American Revolutionary War, Immigration, or Jamestown, VA. By selecting a broad topic, you will be able to quickly narrow it down when you begin searching through indexes for your specific topic. Your local library will have an index of National Geographic magazine topics. It will be found with other indexes of Periodical materials. Your Reference Librarian will be able to help you. It is also possible that your library has the index on CD-ROM, but in either case, you can sort through many topics in a few minutes. If you are not finding information on what you are searching for in a few minutes, narrow your search; for example: Cumberland County, KY.

Once you find something that might interest you, jot down in which issue that article will be found. Include the year and month of that issue. Once you become familiar with the index, it will give you more ideas of what is available which might interest you. Most libraries across our country have some issues of National Geographic in the Reference Section.

Recently I did some searching using the Indexes of National Geographic on the topic of the Civil War. It was interesting that I found an article, from the April 1965 edition entitled, "Appomattox," where Grant and Lee made peace with honor a century before. Contained in this article is a diagram of the Eastern seaboard of our country with all of the major Civil War battles; something wonderful to put in my Civil War grandfather's notebook of information.

If you have the Internet at home, you can search the National Geographic Archive online index for the past nine years at

Probably not every library in our country will have a complete stock of back issues of National Geographic. However, there are a couple of other places you might check for a certain issue; you might check out the book sales at your local public library. Often book sales are held twice a year. Many of these back issues can be picked up for 10 cents to $5.00 each, depending on which ones you might want. Sometimes the Public Library might even have a section of the library where they sell them on-going. The other place you might check is eBay. Don't hesitate to contact a seller to ask exactly for a particular issue they may have. Search for what you are seeking, don't settle for anything else. One great by-product of searching for back issues and buying one, is the fact that you have the pictures and the article, instead of just a grainy copy, which might be the case if you photocopy it at the library.

Once you have the information you have searched for, it is now time to add it to your family history. If you purchased the issue you wanted, dismantle the issue carefully and select what you want from the issue. You do not have to keep the complete magazine, and dismantling it will save space in your notebook of family history. You can make notes in the margins to you help you remember things, such as, "Grandfather used to talk about this river", or "this is the church Great-Grandmother attended." Such notes are wonderful pieces of family history in their own right. Often pictures found in National Geographic may contain just the photo you wish to put in the front cover of your family history book. The picture might help you remember your ancestor in a special way.

National Geographic has been around for about over 100 years, and throughout those years, there are many beautiful pictures showing historical landmarks of such things as small ethnic communities of America, war events (perhaps with maps), or specific events of historical significant in American or world history. Enrich your family history using these materials, available at your library or purchase them at your local library book sales events. As you continue your research, consider also searching other periodicals, especially the state magazines of particular states you are researching; these magazines will also give you a wide range of articles as well a good assortment of pictures and maps. Use the Google search engine, to find out a certain name of the magazine for the state you are researching. If you subscribe to Ancestry, then you will also have access to the Periodical Source Index (PERSI). If you live in the state the magazine the magazine is from, it will be easier to locate an index in your local public library. Also, check the discarded magazines at your library. Many libraries have a stack of magazines which you can often just take for free. One of these might just be the state magazine you are seeking.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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