Category Archives: Research – General

Use ArchiveGrid to Assist Your Search

One of my absolute favorite websites for helping with the task of locating items of interest to MY research project is ArchiveGrid.

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You can read in detail about how ArchiveGrid works, its history, and so on, on the website. The summary from the website: “ArchiveGrid includes over 5 million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more. With over 1,000 different archival institutions represented, ArchiveGrid helps researchers looking for primary source materials held in archives, libraries, museums and historical societies.”

It is like WorldCat is to libraries. It is an online catalog of holdings from libraries, manuscript collections, and archives from across the globe. Of course, they have to be participating with the OCLC system to be included, but so many are! And some of the participating collections are not your typical collection you might think about in terms of genealogy. Just reading through the “recent additions” I see Indiana University’s Latin American Music Center, United States Marine Band Library and Archives, the American Bookbinders Museum, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Museum of Flight Archives.

ArchiveGrid is very easy to use. It employs a simple keyword search and then a filter system is available when you click on “Summary View.” There are also more advanced ways to search. As always, read the help pages and “how to search” instructions for better results. For example, if you remember the leather pocketbook from the last post, it belonged to Thomas Jefferson Johnson. If you search ArchiveGrid for Thomas Jefferson Johnson you will get all kinds of hits for the president Thomas Jefferson. However, ArchiveGrid, like many databases, allows you to put the name in quotes. When I did that search, I found a collection of papers down at the Austin History Center that includes family correspondence dating back to 1853. It is very likely that some of those family papers complement the collection I viewed at Southwestern University’s Special Collection.

Access ArchiveGrid, enter some family names or topics relating to your research, and see what you find. You might be pleasantly surprised!

How to Visit an Archive

Some of you might be intimidated by the thought of visiting an archive or manuscript collection. I mean, they aren’t like a regular library usually. They tend to have a lot of rules and they will get after you if you don’t follow them. You can’t always bring in items you want to bring in. Why would you want to subject yourself to all of that hassle? I did feel this way in the beginning…when I was a “baby” genealogist. But I hope the last couple of posts (here and here) have convinced you to get over it and get in there!

Most (if not all) will have a website (such as that for the Briscoe Center for American History on the University of Texas Campus). Be sure to read it! It will prepare you for what to expect, the rules in terms of what you can bring in, copy policies, photography fees, parking, hours, closings, and so on. They will often have a catalog or finding aids on that website. Some archives have a system with which you can make an account and order your items ahead of time so they are ready for you when you show up. Often you will have to register as a researcher, showing your ID, filling our a form, or some other way for them to identity you. Also, do not be afraid to email the archivist with any questions. Sometimes a repository is behind in cataloging and not everything is listed. The archivist will know more about what is in the collection, or if you are having trouble locating something, they can help you find it.

Briscoe Center Website

Most often the rules are: no loose papers unless they look at them and stamp them with a stamp indicating it was something brought in or they provide you with a colored sheet of paper for notes; no pens, pencils only; laptops are usually ok but they will want to look inside it before you leave; usually photos are ok, some repositories have a photography fee; no drinks. I might have forgotten some, but those are the main rules I’ve experienced.

All of those rules are in place to protect the collection. No one is accusing you of anything when they ask to see inside your laptop or at your papers. Over the years, as you might imagine, items have been stolen, ripped, marked on with pen, had coffee spilled on them, and so on. These items are unique, one-of-a-kind, priceless, historical items. We don’t want to lose them and therefore they are in “protective custody” and you are required to follow these rules so they can survive for many generations to come.

The best advice I have is to read ahead to understand the rules then follow them without complaint, and you will have a great time at the archive. You never know what you will find but you will definitely have a great time in these original records!

Archival Finds

I wanted to share a few more finds from my visit to the Southwestern University’s Special Collection from last week’s blog post. I had so much fun and got to see and hold so many cool things!

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Leather pocketbook belonging to Thomas Jefferson Johnson

This is probably one of the best examples for visiting the archives…you truly never know what you are going to find! This leather pocketbook belonged to Thomas Jefferson Johnson. On the inside:

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The inside of Thomas Jefferson Johnson’s leather pocketbook.

The transcription: “Thomas Johnson’s pocket book living in St. Louis County state of Missouri this 4th of July 1829 –– Thos. Johnson was born Oct. 8th 1805.”

Ok… when you are looking for those vital records for your ancestors, did you ever think to look in their leather pocketbooks? I didn’t.

Now, will you find your ancestors’ birth information in a leather wallet? Probably not. Will you find some other cool items in an archive near you? Most definitely!

Go to an Archive!

I had the absolute pleasure and surprise of being invited to visit the Special Collections at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. The archivist, Megan Firestone, found my name on a list of researchers and invited me up…and of course I accepted! She is an absolute gem and I’m so glad I visited.

I received a lovely tour of the reading room and a peek into some of the backrooms!

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This week I visited again with a goal in mind. I asked if they had any old scrapbooks or autograph books. I was not disappointed. After looking at the finding aids and emailing with Megan to decide on what I’d like to see, I made another visit to the archive where they had a large cart of items waiting for me.

I will share a few exciting things here:

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Natha Pritchett Scrapbook
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Inside Natha’s scrapbook
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Lunch pail

I saw so many cool and interesting items. More than I can really share in one post. I will likely highlight some other items in future posts.

I really want to encourage genealogists to visit an archive near you. You do not need to have a research project in mind. Check their website for a catalog or finding aid. Find a topic of interest to you, whatever it might be. Communicate with the archivist, as they might know of items that haven’t been cataloged yet. But go and look at these lovely original treasures.

There is nothing like looking at old letters, scrapbooks, and ephemera that delves into a person’s life in much more detail than a vital record or census enumeration. You get a sense of people’s personalities and some really specific details about their lives. Of course, the trick is finding the items, boxes, and papers that apply to your family, but I believe your research experience can be enhanced by looking at any item in the archive. Rather than looking for a person, search by topic, such as scrapbooks, farming, women’s issues, and so on. Give it a try.

Get out there!

Digital Collection Feature: Buffalo & Erie County Public Library

I have been working on a client project this week that took me into Buffalo, Erie County, New York, one of my favorite areas to research because of its vital role in the westward movement of the United States. Buffalo was in a prime location between the time of the Erie Canal and Lake Erie, shipping and passenger travel could occur from the east coast in New York all the way inland to the frontier via the Great Lakes, and even down the Mississippi River to areas to the south and west. The growth, opportunities, and migration through that location is amazing from an ancestral and historical point of view.

a795f06d1b6363c80fe67c7c01d6ff88One of my favorite things to do when researching at a local public library is to examine pages named “digital collections” or something similar. Today, I happened upon a new collection at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library: ERIE COUNTY POOR HOUSE LEDGERS. This is a wonderful collection! The poor house books cover a range of years from 1851 to 1952. The pages have been beautifully digitized and the on-screen viewer is very easy to use. Zoom in to see very high-quality images.

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Screenshot of the page view of one of the ledger books. Erie County Home and Infirmary (Alden, N.Y.), “Erie County Poor House Ledgers, Volume 8. Register of Deaths, Erie County Home & Infirmary, August 16, 1926-December 30, 1941,” B&ECPL Digital Collections, accessed May 30, 2018, http://digital.buffalolib.org/document/93.

I am always so excited when I find digitized records such as these. To be able to access high-quality digitized records from Buffalo, NY while sitting in my office in Austin, TX is truly a blessing.

There are other items in their digitized collections and if you have Erie County, NY ancestors, I hope you’ll be heading over to their website! The URL is: http://www.buffalolib.org/content/digital-collections for the entire Digital Collections page.

I hope you are examining local public library websites when you are researching your ancestors, and I especially hope you like to poke around in their “digital collections.” You just never know what treasures you might find!

Take advantage of your state’s offerings!

We moved to Texas about three and a half years ago now…my how time flies! Through learning the library systems in the state, which are very different to how they worked in Colorado, I discovered that as a Texas state resident, I am allowed a FREE library card to the Texas State Library, and in particular to their online digital collections! This means that I can access HeinOnline and other useful databases for FREE!

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HeinOnline is quite expensive but so useful when doing any law research as it relates to your ancestors, which you should be doing! I also discovered on the Texas State Law Library website that all of the historical Texas statutes are nicely listed and available to anyone (library card or not).

If you live in Texas and would like to get your library card, it can be done online. Click here for instructions. If you live outside of Texas, ask your local librarian or do some online searching to see what offerings are available in your state. There are valuable resources available. Be sure not to miss them!

Findmypast Offers FREE Weekend. Use it!

Great news! Findmypast is offering FREE access to British & Irish records starting today until June 26th. A couple of years ago I had great success using FMP (shared below) which helped me confirm something I’d only suspected from one word in one document. When a FREE weekend is offered on a site that I don’t subscribe to, I try to clear my schedule so I can learn as much as I can over that weekend. Here’s your opportunity if you have British and/or Irish ancestors.

From the FMP news release:

Leading family history website, Findmypast, has just announced that their unrivalled collection of British and Irish records will be free to access for the next five days. Between 04:00 EDT 22nd June and 18:59 EDT, June 26th 2017, more than 1.1 billion records ranging from censuses and parish registers to military service records will be completely free to search and explore.

By providing free access to such a wide array of records, Findmypast aims to encourage genealogists to experience the very best of everything Findmypast has to offer. Researchers will also be provided with daily getting started guides, expert insights and useful how-to blogs over the course of the free access period, as well as a free downloadable eBook entitled “your must have guide to finding your British & Irish ancestors”.

An open “ask the experts” question and answer session will also be broadcast live on Facebook at 10am EDT on Monday (June 26th). Findmypast specialists in search techniques, military records, UK family history and everything in-between will be on hand to answer any questions researchers may have, whether they’re just getting started or need help overcoming a brick wall. This will then be followed by a free webinar entitled “20 Unmissable Resources for Tracing Your British and Irish ancestors” at 11am EDT, Wednesday July 5th.

For the duration of the free access period, all visitors to Findmypast will be able to access all of the following resources for free;

The largest collection of UK Parish Registers anywhere online

  • The largest online collection of Irish family history records in the world
  • The largest collection of British Military service records and the only collection to cover all three service branches (Army, Navy & Air Force)
  • The largest collection of British WW1 records & over 2.7 million Foreign Office Prisoner of War records covering both World Wars
  • The largest online collection of England & Wales Crime, Prisons & Punishment records
  • Over 13 million Roman Catholic Sacramental Registers covering Ireland, Scotland England and the US

Findmypast is home to millions of British & Irish records you won’t find anywhere else online and is the only family history website committed to releasing new records every single week.

I had great success using FMP a couple of years ago to locate the discharge papers of my 4xGreat-Grandfather, James Sly, of Warminster, Wiltshire, England from 1819!

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“British Army Service Records 1760-1915,” Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed October 2016), entry for Private James Sly, Parish of “Orningsham,” 1819; citing The National Archives (UK), WO 97 – Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records, Box 796, Record No. 97.

I knew from the 1841 UK census that James was a “pensioner,” but this record confirmed it and gave me more information on when he served and in what regiment.

If you have Irish or English ancestors, I do hope you’ll take advantage of this free weekend!

What I Don’t Know, Part 1: Researching in a new area

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I know it has been quite some time since my last post. I don’t know if you noticed. It’s been almost 2 months! Well, I took a little break from the blog because some other projects landed on my desk. One of which is the topic of this next series of posts. I was compelled to volunteer for something, that had to be done within a month. I told myself, in order to get my portfolio done, I need to lay off the volunteering. But I did it anyway and I learned a few things along the way and I am able to use it as a sharing/teaching opportunity.

Maybe you are like me, one of those people who finds herself volunteering for things when she didn’t mean to. I have been taking part in a study group that focuses on mid-western research. The first year there were lectures on the various record types to be found in the area. The second year (this year) we’ve been hearing case studies from study group members, one per month on one of the states. It turned out that no one had volunteered to present a case for Illinois. The coordinator was threatening to either cancel or give everyone a homework assignment instead. I watched myself as I raised my hand and volunteered to present on Illinois. I don’t really have any research in Illinois! I had just a few collateral ancestors who I knew at least passed through Illinois but I had not done any research to speak of in the state up until last month.

The next series of posts will demonstrate all of the research points I didn’t know but figured out in about 2 weeks from the comfort of home. This series will show just how much can be done from home using Internet sources and Google searches. It will also demonstrate that not EVERYTHING is on the Internet. There are many records I need to order and more I still need to find. Having very little knowledge of Illinois research when I began the project, I was able to put together an hour-long presentation that shared a good rough biographical sketch of two families that intersected in Southern Illinois, the Scroggins and Dimicks of Hardin and Gallatin Counties.

Census Hurdles – Searching Tips and Tricks

2013-10-07 03.46.42 pmAfter our tour through some of my favorite census hurdles, let me sum up with some of my corresponding tricks for dealing with them.

Language Barriers
Think in terms of thick accents and how the names may have sounded.

SOLUTION: Create a list of all possible spellings of your name to use when searching.

Literacy
While you may know exactly how your ancestor’s name was spelled, the census takers and indexers did not. They did the best they could.

SOLUTION: Keep an open mind about how names were spelled in both the census and the census index.

Indexing Errors
Hard-to-read handwriting & typos

SOLUTION:  Learn about old handwriting. Read a lot of old handwriting. Look at tutorials, articles and examples on old handwriting. Be sure to make “corrections” at Ancestry.com using the “add alternate information” link.

Quality of Information Given
How do we know who gave the information and how accurate it is? We don’t.

SOLUTION:  Take every bit of information from the census as a clue, not the truth. Always, always, always corroborate census data with other research. Back up your findings with birth, marriage, death, land records and other research.

Microfilming Errors
Did all of the pages get microfilmed?

SOLUTION:  Pay attention to the page numbers in the upper corners of the census records. If there are missing pages, you can write to the National Archives for missing pages.

Are the images readable?

SOLUTION:  Not much can be done here. You may have some luck with putting the image into a photo editing software and adjusting the brightness and contrast. Also looking at the images in the negative can be helpful.

Some other things you can do to make your census research more successful:

  • Use indexes but do not rely solely on them, as we’ve seen, there are errors.
  • Make a list of spelling variations. Write down every way you can think of that the surname could be written. Write down every way you find it indexed.
  • Read the census line by line for a given district if you are sure they should be there and you can’t find them in the index.
  • Learn about old-style handwriting. You can learn a lot about this by volunteering your time as an indexer through FamilySearch Indexing.
  • Corroborate census info with other research.
  • Don’t give up. Just because you don’t find them in an index doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Get creative with your searches.

I hope this series has given some ideas of what our ancestors, census takers, indexers, microfilmers, and researchers have to deal with during each step of the process. Between when the census taker stepped foot on our ancestors’ doors to these census indexes and images displaying on our computer screens many potential mistakes could have been made. Keep in mind the reasons, try to imagine the situation, and be creative in searching and you will have more success using census records.

 

Census Hurdles – Microfilming Errors

When moving from one level of human interaction with a piece of information to the next, we introduce more and more potential for errors. I’ve already discussed some sources of errors such as language barriers, literacy, handwriting, and indexing errors. There is also the possibility of errors in microfilming.

If you are browsing images either online or on microfilm, you might want to pay attention to the page numbers. Were any pages skipped when microfilming the original census books? If there weren’t necessarily page numbers on every page, you can pay attention to dwelling and family numbers to be sure they are in sequential order and none were skipped from page to page.

I have been victim to those really dark or really faint microfilmed pages. Check out some of these beauties:

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I’m not sure how we are really supposed to read these, let alone the indexers. Thankfully, there have been some really great advances in digitization and many of these dark and light images can be corrected.

Other oddities I have seen:

  • hands in the image
  • pages not completely turned
  • blurred images, as if the page was being turned while being filmed
  • other pieces of paper in the image, over the census

I’m sure everyone has a fun example of microfilming errors. I’m hoping over time, these errors are being fixed and improved. It just highlights the fact that no one is perfect, right down to the folks who run the photography equipment.