Tag Archives: research tips

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.)

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.


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!

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.