Skip to content Genealogy Q&A with librarians Mahina Oshie and John LaMont – The Seattle Public Library Foundation
Genealogy Librarians Mahina Oshie, left, and John LaMont, right, share their depth of knowledge about the genealogy tools at your disposal.

Genealogy librarians Mahina Oshie and John LaMont joined us for an insightful episode of “Inside Your Library” April 2, walking us through everything The Seattle Public Library offers for genealogy research.

Click here to watch the full program!

Supporters submitted so many questions that we couldn’t get to them all, so Mahina and John graciously answered some additional inquiries for us to share with everyone.

Thank you to everyone who attended this fun program and for your insightful questions! Read on to learn more from Mahina and John:

Q: What’s the best way to ask John and Mahina questions about our genealogy research?

A: During the pandemic, the best way to reach us is to submit a question via the Library’s Ask Us email form. If the question is related to genealogy, it will end up in the Special Collections Department queue for Mahina or John to work on. We usually try to send a reply within 48 hours.

Ask Us:

If you would like to schedule a 30-minute appointment with us, you can do so through the form on our website:

Q: How do I get Census data?

A: You can access U.S. Census records from 1790 through 1940 online with your library card and PIN using the Library’s subscriptions to Ancestry Library Edition (remote access currently through June 2021) and Heritage Quest Online (always available remotely). You can also access these Census records at by creating a free account.

Q: tells me that SPL has a book that I would like to view. Is there a way to do that while the Library is closed due to the pandemic?

A: If you find a book in our collection, via or elsewhere, send us a request via Ask Us. Most of our genealogy collection is available for reference use only at the Central Library, but we’re happy to do look-ups and provide scans of selected pages. If we find that the book is available online, we’ll send you a link, as well.

Q: What message boards would you suggest?

A: Message boards can be great, and there are many posts to be found from the past 20 to 30 years. Personally, I tend to spend more time now on specialized Facebook groups. They’re typically more active than some of the older message boards and often you’ll find a specialist who can answer your questions. That said, you can read more about message boards and find a few links at this somewhat dated FamilySearch blog post:

FamilySearch Blog: Collaboration: Message Boards and Forums

You’ll also find links to a variety of message board resources on Cyndi’s List.

Cyndi’s List: Queries & Message Boards -> General resources

Q: Any suggestions for retracing a soldier’s movements in WWII?

A: For information on an individual soldier, you can visit the National Archives (NARA) website and request records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. You can read more on the NARA site below, but currently they say, “Please refrain from submitting non-emergency requests…until we return to pre-COVID staffing levels.”

Veteran’s Service Records (via NARA):

If you know the unit and have other details already, you might have some success using the Order of Battle to determine where a given regiment was operating during the war:

Order of Battle of the U.S. Army, World War II, European Theater of Operations, Divisions:

Following are additional WWII Order of Battle books in our collection:

Seattle Public Library. Online catalog. Keyword Search for: Order of Battle World War 1939

Q: Is the National Archives on Sand Point Way still open and available for Census research?

A: According to the site, the National Archives at Seattle (located on Sand Point Way) site, they are currently closed: “The Research Room at the National Archives at Seattle, remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic….” They have microfilm of the U.S. Federal Census from 1790 to 1940, and likely also have access to Census records through subscription databases such as NARA has partnered with Ancestry and other to help digitize materials in their collections. For more information on the National Archives at Seattle (Sand Point Way), take a look at their website:

National Archives at Seattle:

Q: I paid for Ancestry this year.  Will I have to begin with a new tree again when I shift over to Ancestry Library?

A: Your family tree and your login will remain even after you stop paying for a subscription. You can continue to add to your tree at Ancestry with your unpaid account, but you’ll no longer have the ability to automatically add linked records to your tree from Ancestry search results. If you make your tree public and searchable, you’ll be able to access it via Ancestry Library Edition, but you won’t be able to edit it there. Ancestry Library Edition will only give you access to the content of Ancestry databases, rather than tree building, messaging, etc.

Q: Are most of the in-library resources limited to the downtown main branch? What are the major library resources that are available online from home? Are any genealogy materials available for check-out?

A: The genealogy collection at The Seattle Public Library is available on the 9th floor of the Central Library. While it’s largely a reference collection to be used at the Central Library, we do have a large collection of genealogy handbooks / guides that are available to check out. Also, we’re happy to do lookups in our materials and scan selected pages to send via email. If that doesn’t get you what you need, we will lend some family histories (call # 929.2) and local histories (call # 974-979) for reference use at your local branch. If the requested items are scarce, in poor condition, part of a multi-volume set, or unlikely to travel well, we’ll let you know the book is not available for loan.

Q: Would Daughters of the American Revolution be a possible resource? My grandmother was a member of the DAR but I don’t currently have any records.

A: The DAR Library in Washington, D.C. has a large collection of genealogy materials and they also have copies of member applications. If you don’t have copies of your grandmother’s records and research, it’s worth requesting a copy of her application and supporting materials. If you’re interested in joining the DAR, you might also contact a local chapter to see if they can help. I believe state regents and/or registrars at DAR have digital access to member applications. You’ll find additional details on their website:

Thank you, Mahina and John, for taking the time to offer additional expertise!