Researching Your Family History at Atlanta History Center’s Kenan Research Center

elderly with kid

Traditionally considered the domain of gray-haired researchers sitting in dusty libraries, family history research has moved into the mainstream, appealing to people of all ages, and is as accessible as the mobile device you’re holding in your hand right now.

So how do I begin researching my family history?

The best place to start is with you!  Write down what you know (or think you know) about yourself, your siblings, your parents, and your grandparents. Look through your papers, photographs, and other records at home for information to add. Ask family members what information they might be able to share.

How can the Kenan Research Center help me?

Once you’ve gathered all the information you can from home and family, you can begin to search our collections from any computer with internet access through our website at Follow the links for “Learning and Research” and “Search our Collections.”

Our new federated search feature allows you to search all our databases with a single click. You can search by the county or state in which your family lived (i.e., “New York genealogy” or “DeKalb County genealogy”) or you can search by your surname. If you are searching for photographs, you may wish to search for the name of the neighborhood in which you grew up. In the dropdown to the left of the search bar, you can select a specific type of item, such as an artifact or periodical, but it’s probably best to search “Everything” first and then filter the results you will get. You can filter search results by Item Type, Format, Resource, Digital Format, Subject, and Date.

If you do not find anything in our online databases, come see us anyway! We are open by appointment only Tuesday–Saturday from 10:00amto 5:00pm. Please email or call 404-814-4040 to request an appointment. We have many resources that can help you successfully navigate the branches of your family tree, whether or not your family has roots in Georgia.  Here are just a few of them:  

  • Our patron computers offer free access to the library editions of three popular subscription-based websites: provides a wide variety of digitized records from all over the world; offers full text searchable access to newspapers all over the country, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and is a great resource for researching ancestors who served in the military.
  • In our manuscript, photograph, and map collections, you’ll find city records, such as the 1896 Atlanta census–a typewritten record of the residents of Atlanta, organized by ward, that includes the resident’s place of birth.  You’ll also find personal papers and documents pertaining to families and individuals; map collections that contain ownership, tax, and other information about neighborhoods, homes, and businesses; and photograph collections that include images of homes, families, neighborhoods, and businesses. Genealogy and personality subject files can contain pedigree charts, newspaper clippings, and other information about families and individuals.
  • The Veterans History Project, and other oral history collections, contain audio and video-taped interviews in which narrators recall their life stories.
  • Our genealogy library contains over 6,000 volumes, covering the original thirteen colonies, all Southeastern states, as well as most counties in Georgia, including county, city, and family histories. The collection also includes how-to books that provide help with African American research; Native American research; properly citing genealogical sources; and other genealogical topics.
  • Our microfilm collection includes Atlanta City Directories (1859-1997) that can provide information on city residents such as race, marital status, and occupation; Georgia census records; the Atlanta Journal; and the Atlanta Constitution. Our microfilm readers can take digital scans of the microfilmed images that can then be saved to your thumb drive, emailed to yourself, or saved directly to your account.
  • Franklin Garrett’s Necrology is a genealogical resource for white men from the metropolitan Atlanta area, twenty-one years of age or older, who died between 1857 and 1931. It includes cemetery surveys conducted in the 1930s from cemeteries throughout the metro Atlanta area as well as abstracts of City of Atlanta death certificates from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Women listed in the necrology are mentioned in reference to their male counterparts. digitized the entire collection in 2013 along with additional City of Atlanta and Fulton County records and makes them accessible at no cost through their website. Not all record groups are indexed.

What if I need more help?

Atlanta History Center offers quarterly programs on a variety of genealogy topics, including beginning genealogy, using military records in genealogy research, preserving family photographs, and conducting oral histories of your family members. For more information about these programs, please visit, email, or call 404-814-4040.

Can you help me research my Black Ancestors?

There’s no question that researching your Black ancestors can be challenging, particularly if your ancestors were enslaved. Our quarterly genealogy programs offer guidance on a variety of topics, including researching your Black family history. One of our most popular genealogy program speakers, Emma Davis Hamilton, past president of  the Metro Atlanta Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), produced a pre-recorded program on using the Freedmen’s Bureau records during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. The recording is available on Atlanta History Center’s YouTube channel here.

Researching my family is difficult. Is it worth it?

Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke of Emory University conducted decades of scientific research that confirm what those of us who love family history have always known: children who know the stories of their parents and ancestors are more successful in navigating the challenges of life than those who do not.  According to the study, children who know their family’s story have “better self-esteem, higher levels of social competence, higher quality friendships, and less anxiety and stress. They also had fewer behavioral problems, as reported by parents.”

Fivush concludes, “[Children] need to know that they come from a long line of people who are strong, who are resilient, who are brave…. The definition of who they are is not just something independent and autonomous, spun from nowhere. It’s embedded in a long, intergenerational family story.”

Oh yes, it’s most definitely worth it!