have done the preliminary work of gathering up all the genealogical material
around the house from family bibles, address books, old letters, photographs,
and interviews of the more elderly relatives, you are ready to venture
out to libraries, town halls, county records centers, cemeteries, and more.
(For more information on how to get started, see "Family Ties" article
2) We are now going to discuss research libraries and what you might
expect to find.
It is very important
to remember that you should always research and do your detective work
close to the source of the problem you are trying to solve. If Grandma
was born in Horseheads, NY, that is where you want to look for information.
You might find a tidbit of information in a local library, but to get the
most benefit of your time, it always pays to go close to the source.
Your second best source would be your State Library which usually houses
information from all areas of the state. The first thing to do in
this instance, would be to locate Horseheads. An atlas or even
better yet, a New York State gazetteer is a great starting point.
French's 1860 Gazetteer and Spafford's 1824 Gazetteer are the most useful
for NYS research. These are available in most libraries. You
would find out that Horseheads is in Chemung County, except that prior
to the county line changes in May of 1823, it was in Tioga County.
Knowing the county is important when looking for wills and deeds to aid
in your research.
The next step is to
locate research facilities near Horseheads. Your local library or
genealogical society can help you. You would discover that the Steele
Memorial Library in Elmira, NY has an excellent genealogical collection
as does the Chemung County Historical Society. There are directories
to these libraries and the Genealogical Helper Magazine published by Everton
Publishers (available at many libraries) publishes a list once a year of
most places to do your research -- listed first by country, then state,
and then alphabetically.
Suppose you cannot
travel to where Grandma was born. The US postal service is one of
the great genealogical tools at your disposal. Simply write a one
paragraph letter outlining your problem. Example: I wish
to learn the parents of my great grandmother Mary Smith who married John
Jones. She was born in Horseheads 25 Nov 1866. Can you help
me or direct to where I might find information. Keep it short
and sweet, send them a SASE (stamped self-addressed envelope) and a couple
of bucks to cover copying costs or donation. Keep track of who you
have written to and whether or not you received a response. I wrote
a letter to a
Genealogical Society in Ontario, Canada and
the volunteer who was assigned to my letter happened to have written a
book on the family I was researching and she copied many cemetery records
that were of great help to me. She also sold me one of her books.
I once visited the State Vital Records Department in Concord, New Hampshire
only to find a distant cousin with whom I had corresponded with for 2 years
was in charge that day and she let me look at what ever records I wanted
without restraint. I later discovered she had been to a seminar where
I was a speaker and she had sat in the front row. No wonder she looked
familiar. You will soon discover that the Genealogical World is very
small and that all these "nice genealogists" will cross your path over
and over again.
Assuming that you
are able to travel, bear in mind that every research facility is unique.
The scope and focus of materials they house will vary greatly in addition
to the amount of resources, their form, and their availability. The
worst type of facility has "closed stacks" where you must request books,
files, and other materials and wait for someone to retrieve them
for you. Places where you have access to the materials yourself will
reap you the most benefits and give you the most research for your time.
Examples of types of libraries are:
Town/village or other municipal Libraries
Genealogical or Historical Societies *
Family History Libraries (Mormon Church)
State Libraries and archives
Library of Congress and National Archives
I. Family Organizations or Private Collections
* Some Societies do not have their own libraries
and house their collections within other libraries.
Before visiting a
library or research facility for the first time, talk to someone who has
been there or better yet go with them. Call for a general idea of the type
of collection they have. Ask for directions, hours of operation and fees
(some historical societies do charge a small fee to use their library),
parking accommodations, photocopy policies and prices, places to purchase
meals or to eat your brown bag lunch, other nearby places to research,
and by all means ask if they have open or closed stacks.
As stated before,
the closer to the source or problem, the better chance of finding something.
Have a specific research plan and stick to it. Plan which families
and what problems your are trying to solve. If you strike out, have
some ideas jotted down for alternative research.
When you first arrive
at a research facility, find a knowledgeable staff member to give you a
tour of the collection and how to retrieve it. Let them show you the card
catalogue, use of the computer, specialty files and extra projects and
resources. Whenever photocopying materials at a far away library
be sure to get the title page, name of library and call number. Suppose
you get home and discover you are missing page 23 of a book and it just
happens to contain the information you wanted. You can write the
library, send them a dollar and an SASE, give them the information about
the book, and ask them to send you the copy of the page you missed.
Before going to a
far away library or other research facility, visit your local Genealogical
Society research room. Learn what types of resources are out there
and get a general idea of what you might find at a genealogical library.
You will usually find town, county, and state histories, family genealogies
in book form or files, microfilms of census and other records, church records,
cemetery transcriptions, maps, will abstracts, military information, and
newspapers on microfilm just to mention a few. There are so many
things to look at in a genealogical library that 6 hours will seem like
a half-hour. Plan on spending a few hours and be sure to take your
notes and charts with you.