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“ArchiveGrid includes over 5 million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more.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!

FGS Conference Events, Register by Friday!

I am so excited to attend the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Conference in Washington DC, August 21-24. Registration ends this Friday, August 2nd so get registered!

There is still room at the conference hotel (Omni Shoreham) for an incredible $169 (a steal for D.C.) which is good for a few days before and after the conference (see the conference website for complete details). If you want to do some research at the Library of Congress, the Daughters of the American Revolution library, or the National Archives, this is a fantastic opportunity! If you have never been to one of these repositories, there are several guided tours that still have space available, as well as a tour of the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Check this page for more information.

In addition, this conference is different from previous FGS conferences. The society management topics are woven throughout the entire 4-day conference allowing you more choices in each time slot.

The Friday night event sounds fantastic, “Swing Back to the 30s with Your Ancestors” where you can represent one of your 1930s ancestors with live jazz playing in the background! Personally, I am excited for some of the luncheon speakers! There are still a few tickets left for those as well.

I will be speaking on Thursday, once on the society management topic “Create an Attractive Education Plan for Your Society” (T-217), once on research methodology “Unfamiliar Territory: Researching in a New (to you) Geographic Area” (T-232), and I’ll be participating in “Ask FGS! Panel with FGS Leaders” (T-247) with other members of FGS leadership.

This incredible opportunity is coming up quickly and I hope to see you there!

This post is not so much about genealogy…

I am reading the new book Advanced Genetic Genealogy edited by Debbie Parker Wayne. So far, excellent book, full of challenging methodology, case studies, and much more detailed information on how and why DNA works for genealogy than any other books on the market so far.

I was just reading the chapter by Kathryn J. Johnston, MD on X-DNA in which there is a section titled “The Fibonacci sequence is what makes the X unique.” The Fibonacci sequence is a really cool phenomenon that happens in nature quite regularly. The numbers in the Fibonacci sequence are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. The sequence starts with the number one and the number that follows is a sum of the previous two numbers (1+1=2, 1+2 = 3, 2+3=5, etc.). The numbers of X-DNA ancestors in each generation follows the Fibonacci sequence!1

First of all, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art. I am not a math person. But I know about the Fibonacci sequence by watching these YouTube videos by Vihart called “Doodling in Math Class.”2 I love how math and nature interact.

While this does not really have much to do with genealogy, I thought it was a really cool point that reminded me of some fun videos and I just wanted to share. Fibonacci is everywhere in nature, even in our DNA!


     1. Debbie Parker Wayne, editor, Advanced Genetic Genealogy: Techniques and Case Studies (Cushing, Tx.: Wayne Research, 2019), 76.
     2. There is a series of three videos having to do with the spirals in plants. Very cool!

My Lineage Society Goals

I know you’ve probably heard about DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) (I’ve joined under my ancestor Samuel Dimmick #A032219) and the Mayflower Society (General Society of Mayflower Descendants) (as far as I can tell, I didn’t have any ancestors on the Mayflower, but I’m still looking).

There are a wide variety of lineage societies, however. You probably qualify for several. Many are state or regional such as the many “First Families of _____ ” (insert a state) or “Descendants of _____” (insert a military action or special group). Regardless of which society, they all have something in common: “A lineage society is an organization created to honor a specific heritage or event. Members of lineage societies must prove their descent of that heritage or event through industry approved genealogical proof standards.”1 We like to honor our ancestors and our heritage in many ways.

I recently mailed in an application to the National Society Descendants of American Farmers (NSDOAF). This is a relatively new society, who is at the time of this writing, still accepting charter lifetime members (through 30 November 2019). The qualifications:

Membership is open to Men and Women 18 years of age or older who are lineal descendants of a “farmer” living within the present boundaries of the United States between July 4, 1776 – December 31, 1900.

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William and Carrie (Limmer) Miller, date unknown.

I am applying under my great-grandfather, William John Miller. I am named after his wife Carrie Ann (though mine is spelled differently). They helped raise my grandpa after his mother died shortly after his younger brother was born. I never had the chance to meet them but my grandpa always spoke very highly of them. He wanted to be a farmer and when he could afford it, bought 80 acres near his grandparents in Perrysburg Township, Wood County, Ohio.

So many times as a genealogical speaker, I hear people say something along the lines of “my ancestors were just farmers, they didn’t do much.” To that I say “baloney.”2 They worked to feed their community and their nation. They deserve as much recognition as anyone and I hope if you have farmers in your family tree (most of us do), that you consider honoring their unsung service to America by joining NSDOAF. The qualifications are pretty easy!

If you want an interactive group while you are preparing your application, they have a Facebook group where you can ask questions, get the forms, and generally be supported. (I received word via the group that my application was received and approved!)

(Now to finish my Daughters of 1812 application…)


1. From “Quick List of Lineage Societies” on Lineage Society of America (viewed 10 July 2019).

2. Or is that “bologna”?

CG Renewal Time!

I recently received a helpful packet in the mail from the Board of Certification of Genealogists that my renewal application would be coming due soon. Where did five years go? (Well, four and a half, but still.) It seems like just yesterday I was putting the final spit and polish on my first portfolio!

Luckily, the renewal application process is not as rigorous as the initial application. You only have to submit one to three items as long as one meets the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The main goal is to make sure you are continuing to grow in your journey as a Certified Genealogist, that you are keeping up your education, and that you are applying the standards to your work.

I have been working steadily to improve everything from my first portfolio and am not too worried, except for the lack of time I have to work on it! So I’ve been working hard to finish up and clear out some responsibilities I’ve had and to block time out in my schedule to work on it. Time management is such a trick sometimes!

I will keep you posted. In the meantime wish me luck and few interruptions!

Mid-Summer Catch-Up

I returned from a fantastic week at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) where I had the pleasure of taking “Advanced DNA” from Blaine Bettinger, Angie Bush, and Karen Stanbury, CG. I learned a lot and I learned I already knew a lot which is almost just as important when you are trying to build your confidence in your DNA analysis skills! GRIP has a fantastic line-up for July as well as their 2020 courses published. It’s one of my favorite institutes!

I have some exciting things planned for the rest of my year that I wanted to share:

Phew! I’m tired just thinking about it. I hope to see you at at least one of these events. Be sure to say hi if you see me about.

It’s National Genealogical Society Conference Week!

This week I am attending the NGS Conference and am so excited to participate! My schedule is quite full this time! First, I am attending the BCG Education Fund’s “Putting Skills to Work” day to refresh and update my skills.

During the conference I am presenting three lectures:

  • Session W154, Wednesday, 4PM, “Breaking New Ground: Creating a Locality Guide for New Research Areas”
  • Session F328, Friday, 11AM, “How’d You Find That?!? Tips for Locating Obscure or Hidden Records”
  • Session S421, Saturday, 11AM, “Family History Piecework: An Approach to Writing” (BCG Skillbuilding Lecture)

Working at the booths for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), the Association of Professional Genealogists, and the Board for Certification of Genealogists is also on my agenda.

Beyond this, I am looking forward to new and exciting “things” in the exhibit hall, learning new techniques at lectures, and catching up with old friends and making new.