The Flexible Genealogist

By Dawne

The process of doing genealogical research causes us to change our perceptions regularly. Television and the Internet have brought genealogy into the public eye and in many cases have given beginners the notion that researching family history is simply a matter of typing a name into a computer database. When they do not get the results they expect, they understandably are disappointed. At this point, if they persevere and ask questions at their local library, or of a friend who does genealogy, they will learn about record books, courthouses, research libraries, cemeteries and, yes, more locations on the Internet, as well as the rest of what makes up the mosaic of resources for family history research.

Similarly, one of the earliest lessons we learn as genealogists is that government records are not infinite. There is a starting date for civil vital records in every U.S. state, and it usually is well after the date of statehood. Even if our ancestor was born or died after the commencement of vital records, he or she still may not have a birth record or a death record. And so we change our perception and learn to turn to alternative records to find the information we seek.
Genealogists hear about the Mecca that is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the “other” Mecca that is the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library. Yet neither of these facilities has resources for every location, time period and family. When genealogists visit these libraries with a narrow idea of what they expect to find, for example, Grandpa’s adoption record, they may come up empty handed. Then they will have to change their perception to realize that for that particular resource, they will need to research in a state archives, a local courthouse or the local public library, etc.

At one time or another, virtually every genealogist will need to do long-distance research and it may not be feasible to visit the area where an ancestor lived. Sometimes it is possible to request needed books via Interlibrary Loan. And occasionally a fortunate researcher may be able to get information or request photocopies by telephoning the public library or courthouse in the remote location. However, to avoid frustration, the flexible researcher should expect that these cases of “telephone fulfillment” are the exception rather than the rule. So when you cannot immediately have Great-Grandma’s obituary read over the phone, ask “Is there a procedure for getting a copy of the obituary?” Don’t give up; just look for another way. In other situations, ask, “Who might have this record?” or “Is there another record that might give me the same kind of information?” or “How can I get access to your collection from long distance?” or “Do you have a suggestion for solving this problem?” or “What should I do next?”

Because the Genealogy Center is a reference collection, its books are not available via Interlibrary Loan. However, this does not mean that people who live long distance do not have access to the material in the Genealogy Center’s books! On the contrary, researchers simply need to change their perception of how they gain access to the material. There are a number of options, including having the Research Center – the Genealogy Center’s research branch – photocopy materials from a specific source or do open-ended research. (See the Quick Search Form and Research Request Form.) Researchers also can request photocopies of needed pages through the Interlibrary Loan service or hire a professional researcher to do work in the collection. If finances are tight, perhaps it would be possible to find someone who has a need (research, proofreading, web site design, typesetting) and arrange an exchange of tasks, or prioritize needs and order a little at a time. The flip side of this last idea is when copies of journal articles are needed, however. With the Genealogy Center’s Article Request Form, it is possible to get six articles for one base fee, plus the per-page copy charge. So rather than request just one article each time you locate one, why not save them until you have six that you can request at once?

Try to look at the process of researching your family history as a journey rather than a destination, and remain flexible rather than becoming frustrated by challenges. Instead of trying to leap-frog back through the generations as quickly as possible, change your perception to realize that genealogy isn’t always quick and easy, but that’s part of the joy in it. Take some time to explore alternative resources and fully extract all clues from each record that you find. Treasures are waiting where you least expect them.

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2 Responses to The Flexible Genealogist

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