Category Archives: Research Trips

Accessing Archives from a Distance

I’ve tantalized you with what you might find in an archive in previous posts here and here. And I’ve given you some tips on how to find a collection that might apply to your personal research through the use of ArchiveGrid. Now, what happens if you find a collection in a repository that is far, far away?

You have three options:

  1. Create a research plan or list, saving all of the information you need to access that collection someday when you are nearby. I do this quite a bit for areas I think I might be visiting in the next 1-3 years and if it is on a personal project that is not time-sensitive. Save the URL to the collection, repository name, address, hours, and so on. I use Evernote for such a task. I have notebooks for various locations or repositories titled “Family History Library,” “Ohio Research Trip,” or “Washington DC.” And I just drop notes in there to access later. A word processing document, spreadsheet, or even a spiral notebook would work as well.
  2. Hire an on-site researcher. Many repositories have lists of proxy researchers because they do not have the staff or resources to do research for individuals. If a repository does not have such a list, check the directories for the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), or International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGEN). These directories allow you to search by location or by specialty. You might also consult with the state or county genealogical society for the area of interest as well. You might also find a cousin, hobbyist genealogist, poor college student, or some other person who would be willing to go to the repository for you.
  3. Ignore it. Now, I don’t recommend this one, especially if you are interested in not only the coolest possible finds out there, but also in conducting “reasonably exhaustive research.” I would at the very least put items in a list and get to them eventually.

I hope this series has convinced you to visit archives and manuscript collections. And if you weren’t sure about how to even go about it, I hope I gave you some helpful tips to quell your anxieties. Where else would you find a petticoat worn by Lizzie Johnson from 1865-1870? (The answer, of course: at the Southwestern University Special Collection in Georgetown, Texas.)

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!

Been Travelin’ … and it’s not over!

The months of April, May and June have been the busiest I have had as far as travel is concerned. I have been on the road more than I’ve been home! A short recap of my April adventures include:

  • The Ohio Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference in Columbus where I got extremely soaked with my friend Beth Benko trying to get back to the car during a storm, and had excellent Thai food with Beth, Judy Russell and Jay Fonkert. (Great suggestion Jay!) And while on the way to Ohio, had the opportunity to meet up with my friend Mark Lowe for dinner! (Great seeing you Mark!)
    Dinner with Mark Lowe at Cracker Barrel in Whitehouse, TN
    Dinner with Mark Lowe at Cracker Barrel in Whitehouse, TN

    My name badge from OGS, my FIRST to use the post-nominals!
    My name badge from OGS, my FIRST to use the post-nominals!
  • A very brief trip to visit some family in NW Ohio since I was “in the area” for the OGS conference where I visited the grave of my War of 1812 ancestor and his wife and daughter, found a one-line sentence in a newspaper article that would have been great to have included in my BCG portfolio, and got DNA from my 89 year old grandma.

    William R. H. Avery, War of 1812 soldier, on the right
    William R. H. Avery, War of 1812 soldier, on the right
  • What has been named the “Quilting Bee” which is really a family reunion between the cousins of the Taplin and Ricard families at a lovely little farmhouse near Waterville, Kansas where I slept in very close quarters with family members I barely knew (but know a lot better now!), met some really fantastic cousins (on my husband’s side), heard a million stories about his side of the family (but they were flying by so fast there’s no way I could capture them all and so next year I am making sure he attends this event himself), ate a delicious “milk can dinner” prepared by my father-in-law, George, and learned a lot about quilting.

    The men pouring out the food prepared in a milk can. Delicious!
    The men pouring out the food prepared in a milk can. Delicious!

These travels have been very fun, educational, and exhausting. I was able to meet up with old and new friends, listen to some great lectures, eat some yummy food, and see some beautiful scenery on my drives. Since moving to Texas, all of my road trips now take different paths and go through different states than I am used to. (I never knew Arkansas was so beautiful!)

The travel is only just beginning, however. Next week I’m at the National Genealogical Society, after that, 2 family trips, GRIP, Seattle, and Salt Lake City! (You can see the full details of my plans in the previous post.) My point in mentioning this is that my blog posts are going to be a little more sparse. I’d like to say I’m going to blog at least once at each event, but I know myself. I’m too busy socializing and then struggling to get enough sleep that I never manage to find the time. (I really need that 8 hours if I’m going to function properly!)

I hope you have some exciting travel plans visiting with family and friends with some genealogical research and conference attending mixed in!

It was “Take Your Daughter to the Library” week…

Ellie at a microfilm reader in the FHL
Ellie at a microfilm reader in the FHL

At the beginning of June, I took my 11-year-old daughter to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City for a week of genealogical research. We had a great time. She’s short (not having started the sprouting up process yet) and cute and blonde and very into fashion. She is also very quick and has an analytical mind. She very quickly learned how to find microfilm, load the film (although she was about 1 inch too short but insisted on doing it herself anyway), be able to read the old handwriting enough to recognize the page numbers and surnames we were looking for, load the film on the scanner, resize, focus, adjust contrast, spot-edit, and scan to the flash drive. She learned all that on the first day and after I could see she knew what she was doing, I gave her films and lists and set her on her way. She did VERY well. I was happily surprised. We spent 2 days working on scanning all of the deeds for one family line and their collaterals.

The staff people at the library just loved her! They’d offer help but she quickly demonstrated that she knew what she was doing and even helped other patrons as the week went on. The scanning section has a tall desk in the middle where you stand to scan and then seated scanners along the perimeter. When she was at a standing scanner, she was a little short (but still able to work the machinery). About mid-week they found her a stool and would bring it out for her when she came up to the scanners. On Friday of our week there, the Family History Library staff asked if they could have someone interview my daughter. She was great! Loved having the photos taken, loved talking to the couple who came to interview us. You can read the article here: Family History Blog.

The week spent with my daughter taught me a few things:

  • My daughter is VERY independent. I mean I knew that before, but now that she actually CAN do things herself (as opposed to when she was 3 and really did need some help) she really wants to and will get mad if you try to help her too much.
  • Too much of even good things can be bad. We made sure to take breaks. While some of us adults can sit in a library for many, many hours on end, we should not necessarily do so. We packed a lunch everyday and instead of eating in the lunch room, we sat on a bench in Temple Square. And about 2 or 3 in the afternoon we took a walk to the Starbucks. Walking and sunshine can really wake up your brain (not to mention the coffee). We also quit working at 6 or 7 pm which I know is sacrilege to some of you die-hard researchers, and if it weren’t for my daughter I’d probably have stayed until closing too, but we also spent time in our room making dinner, watching movies and resting. All good things.
  • To do genealogy with young people, you have to remember what it was like to be a kid. While my daughter did help me a whole bunch, she also spent a fair amount of time playing “Plants Vs. Zombies” on her iPad, reading a book and knitting. Since she doesn’t quite understand what a deed can mean for research, she understands what it is at a high level and finds it completely boring. But when we found those names on a plat map and I could point to a section and say “And this was where great-grandpa and great-grandma’s farm was” (Great-grandma is still alive, kicking, traveling and my kids will remember her), she was very interested. Kids are about the stories.
  • And kids are about the technology. The fact that she got to run a scanning computer all week, handle films and all of that, kept her interested.

I am so grateful that I had the chance to take that trip with my daughter. Someday she might not want to go to the library or would rather hang out with her friends instead of me, but that day is not here yet. Until then, I will be planning next year’s trip!

Reviving, Refreshing, Reviewing … And we’re back!

This was NOT me in Salt Lake City.
This was NOT me in Salt Lake City.

I recently spent almost 2 weeks in Salt Lake City for research and to attend the APG PMC and SLIG. (Thanks Grandpa for being “mom” for me!) It was beautifully snowy the first week (along with slippery sidewalks and cold temps) and sunny but smoggy the second week. Basically I’m not a fan of winter in SLC when you are trying to get around outside. But it will not deter me from attending again next year! I’m pretty tough. I had such a great time just being surrounded by the topic that I love, with people who love the same boring (but not to us!) topic. I got to know the best people more closely. I don’t think I ever laughed so hard in my life. One night, I literally had a face-ache from laughing so much. (You know who you are.)

I am absolutely a huge fan of SLIG. It was my first time attending and I had an outstanding time. I think a large part of that was because of the friends I made and people I connected with beyond Facebook! I took the Advanced Practicum which is a different type of course. Everyday you get a new problem to work on, a case study that has been worked on and nearly completed by genealogists in the field, who then turn the problem over to the class with varying degrees of information to get us started. We then had 24 hours to work on the problem. We met everyday at 4pm to discuss our findings and get the next problem. I won’t go into the details of how it all worked, but the class was very interesting. I enjoyed seeing how others would go about solving the same problem, the different thought processes, and the sometimes different, sometimes same results.

After SLIG I needed about a week to readjust to life. I had gotten out of all of my routines and I was exhausted! Living out of a suitcase gets old after a while, even though I love to travel. I did very much enjoy coming down from my hotel room to a nice continental breakfast and giant pots of coffee everyday. I didn’t have to worry about that part of my day everyday. It’s back to making my own coffee and bed again. And back to the blog. I have a fun plan for February’s theme so I’ll “see” you here soon!

Preparing for a Research Trip – Involving Family Members

My son Ethan helped to find an elusive tombstone. Photo by Cari A. Taplin
My son Ethan helped to find an elusive tombstone. Photo by Cari A. Taplin

I am a mom with two children still at home. When I began this genealogy journey my son was just 5 months old. He’s almost 13 now and my daughter is 10. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to be involved and not grumpy when the car takes a side trip to visit a cemetery or library. When I take a research trip to Wood County, Ohio I am usually there to visit my family and often our trips are too short. I like to combine the research with the visiting to maximize the time we have together: “Hey grandma, let’s go to the cemetery and you can tell me about your great-grandparents and their families.” Taking your family along on research expeditions can be a fun way to get them talking about your ancestors and getting them more interested in what you are doing.

I’m not above bribery. When I take my children to a cemetery I offer them a small fee (25¢ for even looking) and a prize for who finds the tombstone (50¢). It motivates them and makes it easier for me to have little energetic legs tromping around the cemetery. My son is especially good at finding the tombstones. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken him to the cemetery, given him the name we are looking for and he’s off in a flash, zig-zag across the cemetery. In no time at all I hear “found it!” sometimes even before I’ve had a chance to get started! (By the way, he is for hire.)

With the older family members it is sometimes just nice to get them out of the house and to a place they probably haven’t been in a long time. My grandma especially likes to drive around out in the country reminiscing about times gone by, who lived on which farm, who she went to school with, and the fun (and not so fun) times she had. My dad seems to like the thrill of the chase, like finding items on a scavenger hunt. If you have reluctant relatives, you might offer to buy them lunch if they come along.

Combine your research trips with visiting with relatives. Take notes (well, not if you are the one driving) or record conversations on your phone or with a digital recorder. Or have an able person in the car take notes while you’re driving. At any rate, conversation will tend to revolve around what you are looking for. Memories will be triggered when you are looking for Great-Aunt Martha’s grave. You’ll want to be sure to get those memories down on paper.

Involving your family members in your research jaunts can be very rewarding and fun. It might give you the opportunity to connect with some relatives you don’t get to see very often. Whatever you do have fun and enjoy the journey!

Preparing for a Research Trip – Accessing Online Catalogs

Inside the Hancock County Courthouse research room. Photo by Cari A. Taplin
Inside the Hancock County Courthouse research room. Photo by Cari A. Taplin

Before you embark on any research trip, it is wise to give yourself the time to comb through the repositories’ online catalogs and finding aids. Almost every library, archive and courthouse is going to have some kind of information online to help you plan your trip. My favorite thing to do (and the task which I usually short change myself on) is looking at online catalogs and creating a list of what I want to look at when I get there.

Salt Lake City’s Family History Library is a great example of an online catalog that is informative, easy to access and simple to plan from. If you have thought out your research goals and have a plan, then accessing the catalog and creating a “to do” list is the final step (well, before packing and filling up the car). It is like drawing a map for your visit in the library. We only have so much time before we have to leave any research trip so getting the most out of your time is essential.

There are several ways to collect the data and create the list of records, books, or micro-materials you want to access. Back in the “old days,” and by “old days” I mean before smart phones, tablets and even the wide-spread use of laptops, I used to access the catalog, print the page containing the description of the item, write on the blank space of the page or on the back who or what I was hoping to find in the record, and then would store it in a 3-ring binder. Each page was in a sheet protector and when I printed the corresponding records, they would be slipped into the sheet protector along with the catalog page. This ensured I had all of the data I need to create a source citation later.

Now, the microfilm readers have thumb drives. I can copy and store the catalog materials in Evernote. I can take photographs of the pages (even microfilm projections) with my smartphone directly into Evernote. I can sit next to the film reader with my MacBook Air (tiny, lightweight) and take notes in a spreadsheet or on Evernote. There are a million different ways to do this. Use whatever works best for you and your process.

Before you leave on your trip, but once you’ve identified what repositories you’re visiting, get online and see what online resources they have. Google is excellent at this. Just search for their catalog. One small local library I often visit is the Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green, Ohio. Their online catalog is very helpful, allowing researchers to know ahead of time what they have in their collection. Their catalog is connected to a larger database, so if they don’t have what you are looking for you can search surrounding area libraries and see if they have the item nearby. WCDPL also has an excellent collection of newspapers on microfilm which are what I usually access when I go.

While I’m in Bowling Green, there are a few other repositories and locations I like to visit:

You can see from the above list that there is plenty to do in that one town. If I widen my range I also like to visit:

Findlay, Ohio

Perrysburg, Ohio

  • Way Public Library
  • Fort Meigs Cemetery
  • Zoar Lutheran Church (though a large portion of their records have been moved to Way PL)

These towns are within about a 45 mile range from each other, stretching north/south on the I-75 corridor in NW Ohio. There are countless cemeteries and historical attractions in between. By accessing data online before I go, I can create a plan that makes the most of my time there. When you are planning a trip, widen your range and figure out what you can reasonably visit and research with your allotted amount of time.

Set your research goals, create a map, plan your time, make a “to do” list by accessing online catalogs, take notes in your research log about what you’ve found, and have fun!

Preparing for a Research Trip – Research Logs

A vital piece to a serious genealogist’s research, whether you travel far or stick to online and local sources, is a research log. There are several great templates online you can locate through Google searches. There are some available at Ancestry and Family Search. A research log helps you avoid duplicating work and can be a great assistant when it comes to write source citations.

There are several ways to create a research log. Here are a few ideas:

  • tables
  • spreadsheets
  • word processing document
  • paper forms – Although I try to be as paperless as possible, sometimes paper is your best option. I always enter the data eventually into my spreadsheet so that I can use “find” and “search” functions to locate specific items.

Within the document you might want to have several columns to keep track of the following (or create your own):

  • date
  • repository
  • who (specifically or the surname) you are hoping to find
  • record sets (call numbers or other identifiers to make it easy to locate)
  • an open column for making notes
  • a cell for recording the proper source citation (this can be used to later cut and paste into your articles, software, onto digital documents, and so forth, cutting down on some tedious work in the future)

Below is a terribly small example of what I’m describing:

2013-09-26 10.33.01 am

You want to be sure to include enough information in this log to at least know where you’ve looked. This log is something you can add to every time you do more research, simply add a new date.

Your log can be as extensive or as simple as you want. If you use a spreadsheet, it can be as wide as you’d like, no paper size limitations! Spreadsheets also have the advantage of having “sheets” within the same document. [If you are using Excel, there are tabs for sheets at the bottom toward the left. If you are using Mac Pages, they are in the navigator on the left side of the screen.] You can have one document for each surname and then within, each sheet can be for a different repository where you’ve researched for that surname. Or you can create a system of your own. The important thing is that you create one, use it, add to it and check back before you do more research so you don’t duplicate what you’ve already done.

I mentioned before that I had ordered the same obituary 3 times. I have now put it in my research log, documenting that the lady (with the same name as my ancestor) is not mine. Giant bold letters now say “DO NOT ORDER THIS DOCUMENT AGAIN!!!” But the trick for me is to consult my log before I do it! I tend to think I’ll remember, but obviously, three obituaries later, I have some memory issues.

Preparing for a Research Trip – Research Plans

2013-09-26 09.09.24 amOnce you have identified your research goals, you will need to make a plan to reach those goals. It is not enough to have a goal, a goal needs an action plan. This plan might consist of a list of steps, an inventory of sources, a map and itinerary of repositories to visit, and so forth. When planning a research trip, a research plan is vital to staying focused, being efficient and getting the most out of your time.

Your plan should cover these elements:

  • where you plan to visit
  • what records you plan to look at
  • what/who you expect to find in those records
  • brief biographical information on the ancestor to help you id the right person or other information such as a cemetery section to help you locate what you’re looking for

A plan can be expanded to also become your research log (see the next post for more details on the research log).

When traveling, I tend to drive if I have the time. I like being able to go to cemeteries, local libraries, history museums and courthouses that are on the way (or only slightly out of the way). I enjoy seeing the areas where my ancestors lived, walking on land they used to own, and seeing the documents they wrote with their own hands. You can’t really get a good idea of what our great country is like if you are in a plane 30,000 feet up. I do love a good road trip.

When planning your trip, use your genealogy software and locate target areas along the way. Seek out which cemeteries you could reasonably visit. Print out maps and directions to get you there. Planning ahead with a map is easy using tools like Google Maps. In 2011, I was on a very short trip visiting my relatives in Ohio. I planned a day’s tour through 4 cemeteries using Google Maps “My Places” feature. You can view the map here: Google Map of Cemetery Tour. Using this feature, I can locate the cemeteries, see the quickest route between them, make notes of the graves I am looking for – this was my research plan for that trip. [Tip: You can print these out in case there is a poor cell signal on your journey. There’s nothing worse than getting to a remote cemetery and not being able to access your research plan, trust me!]

The process of planning ahead can be fun, will give you the opportunity to be more efficient and will allow you to do some research you might have missed if you hadn’t planned ahead.

Preparing for a Research Trip – Setting Research Goals

notepadEstablishing why you want to do anything is always a good first step whether it is genealogy-related or in some other aspect of life. You can’t know if you made it if you don’t know where you are going. There are many books, blogs, magazines, TV shows and so forth about defining and researching your goals and all of those can apply to genealogy too.

What do you want to accomplish? What is the question(s) you wish to answer? If you are like me you have many, many, many research goals. Some common goals might be similar to the following:

  • Who were my immigrant ancestors?
  • Where are all of my 2xgreat grandparents’ graves?
  • Where was the family farm of my 3xgreat grandfather in Wood County, Ohio?
  • etc…

A research trip might be just the thing to find the answers to these questions. Before you go, be sure you have clearly defined your goals for the trip. These goals can take on many forms. I will go over research plans in a future post, but generally I start with a word document and I create a table for each of my research questions. In this table I will list each repository I wish to visit and what documents or record sets I plan on exploring. An electronic document is great because you can add to it and change it to meet your needs. I can add notes right into the table regarding my findings. This later helps with analysis and correlation of my data as well.

Defining your goals and research plans will save you a lot of time when you arrive at your research destination. I have been known to spend at least the first day during a research trip using the repository catalogs. What a waste of time! Working in the catalog of a repository is something that can usually be done at home now, there’s no reason not to be prepared.