Tag Archives: libraries

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!

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.

ErieCountyPoorhouse
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!

What I Don’t Know, Part 10: Repository Research Plan

Eventually we all have to leave the comforts of home and do some research in a repository whether it be a courthouse, library, archive, or cemetery. There are many things you can and should do from home before you go to be prepared. I will first scour the Family History Library’s catalog to see what can be ordered in to a local family history center for viewing.

For Hardin County, Illinois the catalog looks like this:

2014-03-31 10.52.23 pm

Depending on what is available under each of those topics, I will order in at least the films containing the indexes for such things as deeds, wills, probate and vital records especially if I am planning a research trip to Salt Lake City in the near future.

Also, I will examine online information regarding local libraries, courthouses, archives and cemeteries for information on hours of operation, any costs involved, parking issues, copy fees, restricted items, and so on. There is nothing more frustrating than arriving at a small library only to discover they are closed on Wednesdays, the day you had set aside for a visit. I also visit their online catalogs and know exactly what I want to look at before I arrive.

If I can’t make a research trip in person, I will examine the online information for ordering procedures for courthouses and libraries, local volunteers or genealogists for hire, and local societies who offer look-ups. The Rosiclare Memorial Public Library has a list of genealogical resources available and an email for questions.

2014-03-31 11.06.14 pmCreate your research plan before you leave home. Do as much as possible before you even get dressed and you will have a more successful, productive and efficient research trip!