Get Ready — Get Set — RESEARCH!

September 24, 2010

Of course, we all just want to jump right into the research. Whether it’s wandering through the cemetery, cranking through microfilm seeking that elusive ancestor or dancing through the various databases in pursuit of great-great-grandma, for most of us, the fun is in the hunt. We sometimes forget to prepare to do our research.

If you are getting online to do a bit of electronic sleuthing, prepare yourself by reviewing the family you are chasing. Recheck the vital dates that you have, as well as locations. Think about the names you are seeking. If you are looking for a Mary, remember, she might have been Molly or Polly, or even Marie! Contemplate the many ways that the names could be misspelled. Ask yourself why someone may have provided erroneous information.

When you want to go to a courthouse to research, organize what you have and know what you want to learn. Find out, in advance if possible, if the records you want exist and how to access them. For example, a courthouse fire in 1896 may have destroyed civil marriage records, so you won’t want to waste time hunting for them. However, it may occur to you that the family was, say, Catholic, so a call to the parish or to a diocesan office may guide you to church marriage records. Also, check to be sure the office you wish to visit will be open the day you plan to be there. And have a back-up plan. Power outages, plumbing problems and severe illness could result in a sudden office closing, so a tentative plan to visit a nearby cemetery or church is good to keep in mind. As you see, preparing for a research trip is always a good idea.

Seeking advice from an archivist, librarian, or another researcher can bring fresh ideas to your research, and such consultations are the best part of my job here at the Genealogy Center, but an inadequately organized query can only hinder the success of the quest. Re-evaluate your data to make sure that it follows a logical path. At age 8, that woman was too young to have given birth to your great-grandfather. And your grandmother’s uncle really wasn’t born 15 months after his father died. Reassessing the information you have may open new avenues of research.

So take a few minutes while planning your research activities to consider what you you wish to achieve, what’s impossible, and how you might make the impossible, possible.


The Flexible Genealogist

August 23, 2010

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.

Preparing for a Conference

August 17, 2010

Since our colleagues and researchers are at the FGS Conference this week, we thought we should share some ideas of how we prepare for a conference.

1. Review the program schedule ahead of time and print items from the syllabus that way you have it available to write notes.

2. Create handy “business cards” with your name, contact information, and surnames you are researching. It makes it easy to share and connect with new friends and family.

3. Read the websites and blogs for the organizations hosting the conference. Most groups want you to have a fun and productive time, so they will post information concerning local restaurants, events, research facilities, and sites to visit.

4. If setting aside time for genealogy research, create a research plan. Review research center/ courthouse/ library hours, rules, and catalog to save time.

Your Story

August 5, 2010

StoryCorps has finished its month long visit to Fort Wayne. The trailer located outside the Allen County Public Library was a continuous reminder to researchers to record their personal history for future generations. The Genealogy Center held four wonderful programs in July commemorating Preserve YOUR Story. We should all continue focusing on the theme to share our stories. Some ways we can insure our lives are remembered are by maintaining journals or blogs, sending postcards documenting our travels, completing a family newsletter once a year, and organizing our photos.

Local Entities

July 26, 2010

by Dawne

By now you probably have discovered that when it comes to genealogy, it is not *ALL* on the Internet. However, if you are reading this, then you probably are someone who knows that the Internet can be a useful tool for the family historian.

During the online portion of your research, be sure to recognize that everything useful online is not *ALL* on FamilySearch, nor on HeritageQuest Online, nor on Footnote. It’s not even *ALL* on … or the Allen County Public Library’s website! Many societies, libraries and even courthouses, funeral homes and cemeteries have useful websites for the genealogist.

If you are very lucky, some of these websites that are pertinent to your own research will have digitized copies of original records or photographs of tombstones that you can view, download and print. Others may have databases or indexes that you can search. At the very least, you will find helpful information such as business hours for libraries and courthouses, and contact information so that you may write, call or email the library, courthouse, cemetery, funeral home or other entity. Some websites may include links to other helpful, related sites.

For example, check out the “databases” area of the Genealogy Department of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library in north central Indiana. The site includes a number of databases created and maintained by department staff and links take the researcher to other databases and websites of interest. One of the links is to the Cemeteries of Howard County, Indiana website. This website includes databases of individuals buried in the various cemeteries in the area, often with pdf files of corresponding obituaries and jpegs of tombstone photos!

Funeral homes have begun to post obituaries on their websites. Many of these are limited to recent deaths, but they can be helpful for those researching current branches of their families. As an example, one of our local Fort Wayne funeral homes posts obituaries with color photographs of the deceased. Others are posting similar information on their sites, including memorials posted by relatives and friends. These may include some priceless family stories!

The Beallsville Cemetery in Washington County, Pennsylvania, has its own homepage. In addition to the database of the individuals buried in this cemetery are digitized images of tombstone photos, obituaries, civil death records, military records, cemetery plot maps, interment books, lot owner books and even photographs of some individuals!

Don’t get in a rut with your online genealogical research! Use your favorite search engine to discover helpful websites for the local area where your ancestral families lived.

Discover the Family Search Wiki

July 12, 2010

by Dawne

One of the helpful resources found on the FamilySearch website is the FamilySearch wiki. The FamilySearch wiki is full of more than 38,000 useful articles on all aspects of genealogical research, from information on doing research in a specific geographic location, to how-tos for various kinds of ethnic research.

The FamilySearch wiki fits in with the mission of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which is to provide genealogical records and services to customers worldwide. Its developers noted that people were seeking genealogical research advice online, but having to visit many sources to find what they were looking for. The wiki is a website where, in words from its own site, “the community works together to post articles, lessons, news, and events that provide research advice.”

One of the FAQs (that’s “frequently asked questions,” for those not as familiar with online vernacular) about the FamilySearch wiki is: Why create this wiki when so many seemingly similar sites are in existence. The developers believe that the FamilySearch wiki is not a duplication of other efforts on the Internet. One difference between it and some other sites is that all areas of it are free for use by everyone. Also, anyone can sign up to contribute information to the wiki. If good, thorough information already is available online about a particular topic, the wiki’s administrators hope that contributors will “point” to the existing website from the wiki, rather than duplicate other efforts.

Researchers can visit the FamilySearch wiki and take a tour, learn about topics, and sign up to contribute their knowledge to the site. The home page of the wiki includes a few featured articles, but a hot box allows visitors to type in other search terms.

While visiting the site, check out the Allen County Public Library’s page.

How to Begin

June 24, 2010

Are you wanting to learn how to begin doing genealogy? Are you looking for a refresher on research basics? The Genealogy Center offers two online tutorials on getting started in genealogy.

The Mystery of Your Family History features a basic course on beginning your search, while How to Start Researching Your Family Tree offers a more in-depth tutorial.

Check out these online offerings and begin charting your family tree.