Tag Archives: research trip

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.)

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!

Genealogical Preparedness – Part 4 – The Research Trip

Films in a Family History Library drawer
Films in a Family History Library drawer, photo by author, October 2015

I mentioned previously that I had the opportunity to attend the British Institute in Salt Lake City. Following that week, I stayed another week to spend coveted research time at the library. I was so busy leading up to that trip that I didn’t have time to prepare. I spent a lot of time while there doing things I could have done at home. That week in the library reminded me of all of the things I should have done but didn’t. I have written before on planning for a research trip beginning with this post. I did not do most of the things I mentioned in those posts. This trip was a reminder that I still need to practice what I preach.

I did not REALLY have a research plan in place before I left. That’s not to say I didn’t have some shred of an idea of what I wanted to accomplish that week or that I didn’t know at least some microfilms or books I wanted to look at before I got there. I have what I willingly call a “half-assed research plan” system using Evernote. When I find something I want to look at next time I’m at the library I do one of two things. I either make a completely new note in my “FHL Research Trip” notebook with a screen shot or a link. If I am really on top of things I will even make a note about what exactly I wanted to find in that book, which surnames or individual, or even topic. Usually not though. Or I may add it to my ever helpful checklist notes that may fall in my surname notebooks under a useful note title like “Dimick – To Do” or I have a master checklist in the aforementioned “FHL Research Trip” notebook that is usually less helpful than the notes in that it is usually a film number, usually the title of the film and MAYBE what I’m looking for… again, usually not. Why do I always believe I will remember what I wanted out of that film or book when I get to it?

So, I spent precious library hours using the online catalog that I could have used from home and created a REAL research plan before I left the comfort of my slippers. (I’ve been known to wear slippers at the FHL on particularly snowy and cold days.) I spent time in my hotel room on terribly slow internet doing online research filling in gaps needed to even decide which films or books I wanted to look at. I even did the whole go-to-the-section-in-the-stacks-and-pull-out-all-of-the-relevant-books system.

I’ve regrouped since that trip and set up better templates in Evernote for future research trips. Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List has graciously posted some great Evernote templates on her website for organizing research and creating research plans. I’ve downloaded and customized some to meet my own needs and preferences. I’m working to go through my old “half-assed research plan” system of notes to add them to the new template, trying to figure out what some of those notes are even about.

While I won’t say that trip was not successful, I cannot help but wonder how much more I would have gotten done if I had somehow been more prepared. We’ve all probably been there. Too busy to get a research plan ready. It doesn’t make us bad genealogists, but reminds us about why we should be planning in the first place and perhaps renews our energy for doing that prep work.

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 – 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 – 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.