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Genealogical Research

An overview of resources available at Swem Library for Genealogists along with ideas for other places to conduct research in the area.

What You Need to Know

First Steps

Before starting any genealogical research, you should begin by gathering some basic background information on your family. The Library of Virginia has a great "getting started" guide that you should check out before you visit any library.

What's Next?

So you have your basic family information recorded, and you're ready to start tracing back your ancestors. Well, you might want to first check out some of the books under the "Beginner's Guide" section of this guide and find that book when you get to Swem. But even before that, you will need to know how to get here and find a place to park. To answer all your questions about visiting Swem and William & Mary, please see the FAQ below.

And Then?

There are many types of materials housed in Swem (especially in our Mary and Dennis Rebman Virginia Genealogy Collection), most of which are located on the first floor of the Library. However, depending on the type of information you are looking for you might need different books. This is where the individual lists found in the "Swem Resources" page of this guide will come in handy as a shortcut.

What if I Can't Find What I Need?

Unfortunately, Swem is not a full-fledged genealogical research library, and our collections mainly focus on Williamsburg and Virginia. Luckily, there are other libraries and societies in the area that can help you. Please check out the  "Other Williamsburg Libraries" and especially the "Library of Virginia" pages for more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Am I allowed to use the library?
Anyone is welcome to use, free of charge, the resources of Swem Library whenever the library is open.  We have many visitors who enjoy using the resources, including access to open stacks.

Can I get a library card?
Students and faculty at some neighboring academic libraries, William and Mary alumni, employees and members of certain local organizations, and patrons seeking to check out only government documents may qualify for a free library card. Fee-based library cards are also available. For information, read the Visitor Library Privileges webpage or contact the Circulation Desk for assistance.

Circulation Department:
Phone: 757-221-3072

What help can I expect when I visit Swem?
Swem Library staff librarians and student assistants are not trained genealogists. They can help you access our public computer stations and show you how to access our library catalog and databases. Additionally, they can help you locate where items are shelved in our stacks.

However, librarians will not be able to assist you with your actual research. If you do need more hands-on help with your work, or you're learning how to conduct genealogical research in general, please see the "Other Williamsburg Libraries" and "Library of Virginia" pages for possible alternatives.

Will I be able to use your online research databases?
Yes. The College of William and Mary has access to many databases, such as and historical newspapers, that could help with your research. However, you will be able to use these on campus only due to licensing agreements unless you are student, faculty, or staff member of William & Mary.  If you do plan to use our research databases, we strongly recommend that you bring a flash/thumb drive with you to download information, since you will be unable to print.  

What about printing and photocopying?
Unfortunately, we are not able to allow printing for visitors from any computer workstation. In many cases, you will be able to email citations or documents to yourself. If you plan to do extensive research or think you will want to download information, please bring a flash/thumb drive or personal scanner with you. 

Also available are:
1.  A self-service photocopier (1st floor).  Cost is ten cents per page.
2.  Scanners (1st floor).  No charge.  Scans can be sent to your email or stored on your flash/thumb drive.
3. The Print Shop (Ground floor). Check with this department about fees for copies. 

Are there provisions for visitors with accessibility needs?
The library staff is committed to an environment that provides all persons full access to materials, services, programs, and activities, as library resources permit. Anyone who needs assistance locating and retrieving information or materials, including reading and interpreting the library catalog or using library equipment, can be sure library staff members are ready to help. Follow this link to see specifics on parking, entering and leaving the building, etc.

How do I get to Swem Library and where can I park?
For mapping purposes, Swem Library is located at 400 Landrum Drive, Williamsburg, VA 23185. Click here for directions. During the week, visitor parking passes are $5.00 per day and are available from the Office of Parking and Transportation Services.  After receiving a pass, you may park in any open faculty/staff or student parking space that is not marked "reserved at all times."  On Friday after 5:00 and all day Saturday and Sunday, no pass is required.    

What are the hours of the library?
The hours for Swem Library and for the Special Collections Research Center change with the academic calendar. Before your visit, please check the Hours page.