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Family Histories and Family Sagas

I love family sagas because of the way they expand and contract time, and how that time becomes increasingly heavy with meaning. Acts of rebellion, acts of kindness and the smallest coincidences shape families forty years on or more.

The family saga reminds us of the ties that bind, the way time can break or build us, and how history molds us.

In Namwali Serpell’s “The Old Drift,” timelines and histories intertwine like threads of a braid. The book follows three families through Zambia’s history, from the first European explorers to independence to a near-future not yet here.

Characters appear first as children and last as grandmothers. Readers witness as the landscape of Zambia’s capital city Lusaka evolves from a colonial outpost to a bustling city.

Reading “The Old Drift” reminded me of why I love family sagas. The first one I read was “Middlesex,” by Jeffery Eugenides, which spanned from the First World War to the late aughts, from the hills of rural Asia Minor to the hills of San Fransisco.

Other favorites include “The House of the Spirits,” by Isabel Allende, for a tour de force of Latin American magical realism, or “Salt Houses,” by Hala Alyan, a heartrending tale that begins in Palestine and extends across the Middle East.

Thanks to current technology and digitization, uncovering your own family saga is easier than ever. The Main Library’s third floor, home to the PA Department and REcollection Studio, is currently closed but luckily, CLP offers many other research tools, databases and resources!

Plus, you can always come in and ask our staff to retrieve select materials for you. These include:

  • Newspaper clippings
  • Genealogy collection materials
  • Local History collection materials
  • Microfilm
  • Pennsylvania maps
  • And more!

Need a hand digging for information in Pennsylvania? You can fill out a research request form for us to find birth records, obituaries, marriage records and more.

We also offer access to HeritageQuest Online and HeritageQuest is available anywhere with your library card number, and will be available at home with your library card number until the end of 2021. You can also stop in to access them from any CLP location.

These resources include everything from census maps to city directories, obituaries to local histories, across the United States and Tribal Lands.

You can also explore, which has digitized copies of many records. We’ve put together a video here that will help you navigate the site to find Allegheny County records.

For even more information on genealogy, check out these blog posts from our site:

Whether you want to search for your own family saga or get lost in someone else’s, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has you covered!

You can sign up for a free library card here. If you are new to our eResources, check out these tutorial videos on how to get started. If you have any additional questions, you can contact a librarian through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. You can also call us at 412.622.3114 or email us at

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