Tag Archives: relocation

Moving Part 5: Learning to Research in a New Community

Travis County Ar
Travis County Archives

When I lived in Colorado, I knew where the records I needed were located. I frequented the Denver Public Library, the Colorado State Archives, the Colorado History museum’s research library, the Boulder County Courthouse, the Carnegie Library for Local Research in Boulder, and more. Moving to a new city has brought on many challenges, one of which is vital for any genealogical business: learning to research in new repositories. In Colorado, I also knew who to ask when I ran into a snag. Building a new FAN club (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) for research purposes is just as important as it is for your personal life.

The first time you walk into a new repository can be a little intimidating. You may not be familiar with the building, the parking, the streets (which ones are one way in the right direction…?), the policies and procedures of using the collection (though most of the time this can be found on the repository’s website), and you never know if the person you need to ask for help will be friendly, helpful or totally flustered because he/she is overworked and underpaid. Believe me, I’ve run into all types over the years and I still get a little intimidated visiting a new repository.

I wrote in a previous post about my plan to “adopt” a Texas ancestor in order to learn about Texas records and repositories. Well, I didn’t have to do that. A client with Austin research needs found me! I am very grateful for this new client. Because of her request, I have been to and learned the quirks of the following repositories in Austin:
Travis County Clerk’s office (at a different location than the courthouse)
Travis County Archives (still another location, this time located in the Travis County Sheriff’s building)

[Author’s Note: I want to publicly thank two colleagues, Teri Flack and Randy Whited, for giving me a tour and driving me around to a few of the above repositories, which really helped me understand which records are where around Austin. Thanks to the internet, attending national conferences and getting recommendations from other professionals in the field, I was introduced to these two genealogists in the Austin area and they have been so generous getting a newly relocated genealogist accustomed to the repositories in the area. Thank you! ]

The Austin History Center (AHC) is probably my favorite. The parking is easy (although not free), the staff are the friendliest of all I’ve met so far, the microfilm equipment actually works (big plus) and it reminds me a bit of the Carnegie Library in Boulder (although it’s not a Carnegie building). It is a manuscript archive so you must only bring in your laptop, phone and some loose paper. They provide a locker when you check in. They provide scratch paper and pencils (no pens). They have a fantastic collection of both manuscript materials as well as microfilms of mostly Austin-specific but also other Travis County items.

The Briscoe Center for American History is a primarily a manuscript collection pertaining to Texas history and people. It is located on the University of Texas campus next door to the LBJ Library. Like the AHC, Briscoe provides lockers and does not allow much to go into the facility (computers, loose paper and pencils only). The parking is free but you have to go in, check in, get a parking pass which you must run back out to your car. (Not a big deal except for the day I went and it was over 100 degrees and I had to cross the hot parking lot several times. I’m from Colorado. 100 degrees is too hot, but, I did survive.) This collection has many great items as can be seen in their catalog. I got to read original slave narratives on the day I was there. Very interesting, sometimes sad, reading. I also got to look at a box of all of the notes and research that went into writing a book on Texas slave history. It was fun to sort of see the thought process an author went through in constructing the book.

The Travis County Courthouse and Criminal Justice Center is located across a small park from the AHC. It is a bustling building, very busy with people navigating the legal system. There are two buildings: the county courthouse and the CJC building which houses the District Court. Finding records here has its challenges, one of them being the aforementioned hustle and bustle. The old records through the county court are not publicly accessible and have to be requested. The REALLY old records are still being searched for after my request for some from the 1880s. The District clerk does have a publicly accessible computer index to their microfilms, so once you’ve found a case number, you tell the attendant and they pull the microfilm for you. All of the clerks and attendants were friendly and helpful when I visited them. They were also busy with current events, so my request for OLD records was a little surprising to them since they are usually dealing with more recent records requests.

The Travis County Clerk’s office is located a little ways north of downtown Austin. It is easy to locate and parking is free. It seems as if the county purchased an old shopping center and converted it to county offices. (In my opinion, that is an environmentally and economically responsible move.) The Clerk’s office has several counters for requesting marriage licenses and taking care of other county business. To the right of this is the public research area, mostly containing microfilms of deeds and a few early landowner maps, complete with 6 microfilm readers. However, only two work, if you can get the pay-with-card machine to work. The first time I arrived it took me and the information desk attendant about an hour to navigate all of the quirks of the system. All of the staff were helpful despite the challenges to getting the machinery to work. They seemed to be at their wit’s end with the equipment as well. For everyone’s sake I hope new equipment is in the future budgetary plans for that office.

The Travis County Archives is a separate facility from the courthouse records office. This one is located within the Travis County Sheriff’s building, which is a new location for them and they are still unpacking and labeling shelves. This repository is a little more difficult to access. You can’t just show up, there are not set office hours. It is a closed facility and an appointment must be made to use it. You can email ahead of time to the archivist (a very helpful and friendly lady) and let her know what you are looking for. (She has been going above and beyond working with the County Court records office trying to locate those court records I’m hoping for.) When visiting, someone will meet you in the lobby and escort you through a maze of hallways, to the very back of the building where the archive room is located. It is a nicely lit, large room. When I arrived she had the old court minute books ready for me on a work table. It was a lot of fun to read through some of those old books.

One repository that I haven’t mentioned yet, is the Texas State Library and Archives. This facility has a vast collection of Texas materials. It is located next door to the state capitol building. Parking for this facility is a little more tricky than the other locations; there is a parking garage about a block away that may or may not be free depending on the events in the area. They have a great genealogy center, archives room, and a classroom. I have only taken a class and had a tour but have not done any research there yet.

I am still planning on adopting a Texas ancestor and I have my eye on a few people I’ve located in area cemeteries. I’ll keep you posted on anything that develops on those projects. Overall, having this client work has been quite helpful in getting familiar with Austin and Travis County repositories. I have also become acquainted with several of the archivists and employees at these facilities, perhaps garnering some new connections but definitely allowing me to build my FAN Club.

Lessons from Moving: Part 3

Our recent migration path
Our recent migration path

We are taught in genealogy lectures to examine our ancestors’ friends, associates and neighbors because often people associated with relatives and/or moved to different locations with of associates who were not relatives. In pondering this concept and comparing it to my current situation, I am struck by how different our lives and connections are now than they were for our ancestors.

No one moved with us. It was my husband and myself, our two kids and four pets. Our nearest relatives now live over 3 hours away, relatives we are getting reacquainted with but that we weren’t really close to prior to moving. The only people we knew in Austin were acquaintances, our realtor, and I happened to know of a few genealogists in the area as well. My husband doesn’t have an actual office yet at the building here because the project is so brand new they aren’t done building it and organizing all of the employees on the project yet, so no real work friends for him yet. The point being that if you tried to find a “FAN Club” reason for our move you couldn’t.¹

I imagine to future researchers the migration patterns of today look a lot different, more confusing perhaps than those of our ancestors. Generally speaking, the patterns of US migration generally move from the east coast to the west. (I know this is a big generalization and I have several exceptions in my research.) Also, generally you can locate groups of people who migrated together. I’m sure it happens today, but I would guess not as much. We are a lot more independent, less support is needed from our family and neighbors for survival. From grocery stores to gas stations, indoor plumbing to wi-fi, we generally have everything we need or can find it for ourselves.

Does it feel more isolated? Or maybe it’s just me still adapting to a move and still finding my new network of friends, associates and neighbors. Don’t worry. We are adapting. My next posts will be on how we are working to build our new FAN club.


1. The “FAN Club” principle is attributed to the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills. Elizabeth Shown Mills, QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle) (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012). Also see, Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (www.evidenceexplained.com : accessed 27 May 2015).

Lessons from Moving: Part 2

moving truckOften in my research, I like to think about why my ancestors did what they did. I am especially curious when I find that they moved from one state to another. Sometimes it seems like there are “loners” who go out on their own. Those I generally label as “adventurous” people who wanted to go see the country rather than stay home and tend to the family farm. Sometimes entire groups of extended family moved together, or in a chain, one moved first and then others followed. I usually guess that those folks moved because of opportunity or a better life in a new location.

The truth is, unless we have a diary or letters, maybe a newspaper article, from/about our ancestors we can never really know. By studying the social history of the time and place, we might be able to make a good educated guess. Usually I ponder on my own life choices to try to identify why my ancestor may have done something, like moving to a new state. In our case, my husband got a new job, a better paying and much more interesting job. Also, I consider myself adventurous and I would often wonder what it would be like to live in a different place. Usually it was while we were traveling through beautiful locations that seemed peaceful. Usually we had many reasons to stay put, and not enough reason to move.

But then a REAL opportunity happened. Yikes! It was exciting and scary all at once. Of course, we live in different times than our ancestors. Most of the moving hassles were taken care of by my husband’s new job, things like flying to Texas to shop for a house, then packing, loading and unloading the truck, driving the truck to Texas, and so on. We could have had our cars shipped, our pets and ourselves flown. However we had too many plants and other things the movers wouldn’t move so we opted to take a road trip in our two cars with 2 kids, 3 cats, 1 dog, and miscellaneous items. It was Labor Day weekend so we had a couple of extra days to kill between being out of our old house and closing on our new one. We stayed with family for a few days but then ventured on where we stayed in 2 hotel rooms with 4 humans and 4 pets. Let’s just say that was an ADVENTURE! The next morning at 7:30 am we loaded everyone up, met our realtor, signed papers, waited for the funding to go through and then finally, around noon, got our keys. Let’s not mention how hot it was (90+ degrees) while we had 4 humans and 4 pets in two cars, waiting for our keys.

My car load, photo by my husband in the other car.
My car load, photo by my husband in the other car.
Cat is my copilot!
Cat is my copilot!

Once we had our keys and we unloaded our stuff, our pets and our kids we went over to the school to get the kids enrolled. Since we were leaving Colorado two weeks after their school started, and only one week late for Texas, they got a couple of extra weeks of summer vacation. They started school the next day. We also still had to wait for our moving truck to arrive. Luckily they arrived the next day as well so we only spent one night on air mattresses.

While all of that was full of hassles and stress, it really did go pretty smoothly. Let’s think about it… We drove a car, with air conditioning, and made the trip in two days. Gas stations, rest areas, restaurants and other stores along the way provided for any needs we had. We had all of our belongings in a big truck also headed to Texas. Our ancestors? They would have only brought what was completely necessary and the journey took weeks (maybe months depending on where they were going) through the elements, with only what they could carry or fit in their wagon. They likely walked all or part of the way over rough roads or no roads at all. The farther back in time, the harder it likely was. There was no roadside assistance. There may have been Indian attacks, wild animals, disease or injury, hunger/starvation, and in many cases they didn’t all make it.

My point is, if our ancestors moved, it was a much bigger “deal” than it is today even when I consider our move a “big deal.” They didn’t do it without a lot of consideration and preparation. (Unless they were running from the law, perhaps.) In our case, studying the social history of the area is not going to clue anyone in on why we moved. Perhaps there will be archived versions of everyone’s Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn accounts and other social media outlets. Those are serving as today’s diaries. If future generations have access to these types of records they can probably figure out why we moved.

My husband's Facebook status declaring we'd moved.
My husband’s Facebook status declaring we’d moved.

Pondering the possible motives of our ancestors’ movements can add life to the names and dates and can give meaning to what might otherwise not make any sense. Beware of declaring anything as fact unless you have writings from ancestors. Most of what I “decide” about my ancestors’ motives is of course speculation and is usually based on clues, but rarely does anything say something so clear as my husband’s Facebook status declaring that he had changed jobs and we’d likely be moving or the image to the left that states exactly what day we left our home.

While I don’t have archived social media information for my ancestors (i.e. diaries or letters), it is pretty clear that they moved for some reason and the reason had to be a good one for them to have gone through all that they did. And while I may never know their true reasons, I know what motivates me and my family to pick up and move: a better job and adventure.