When you begin any new project, you need to understand the geography of the area you are researching. It is possible that it’s an entirely new location, an unfamiliar county or state, and understanding where you are researching can have a profound effect on who you are researching.
My first step is usually to Google the county. I look at it on a map, I look at its entry in Wikipedia and I’ll look at the FamilySearch Wiki to see what’s been written about it. I will do a quick scan of the Ancestry.com card catalog and the Family History Library catalog to see in general what holdings and databases they have available. I will also see if there are any local genealogical societies, historical societies, libraries, archives, courthouses, and so forth. In essence, I create my own locality guide.
Sanders Scroggins and Sarah Dimick lived in Hardin and Gallatin Counties which are in the southern tip of Illinois along the Ohio river. Hardin County was created out of Gallatin County, so some of the records I might need may be in one or the other of those counties. When you are researching a new area, be sure to learn about county formation and boundary changes. Locate a county history to learn more. These are readily available through Google Books, FamilySearch Books, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust or sometimes through local library, university or historical society websites.
The History of Hardin County, Illinois was very helpful in understanding the migration to and from this county on the Ohio River. The area was largely settled by people moving from Tennessee and Kentucky, mostly Irish. Some English and French settlers arrived early on before moving farther west. The book also contains some information on the first pioneers, agriculture, Ohio River transportation, and much more.
Familiarizing yourself with the geography of a new area can help you understand where records might be located and how the people may have traveled. This is an essential first step when undertaking any research in an unfamiliar area.
I needed an Illinois family to research, quickly. I had less than a month to put together a program all about Illinois research. I knew VERY LITTLE about Illinois research. (I am still baffled that I pulled off the program.) Most of my research experience is in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri and New Hampshire, with a smattering of stops in other states. I pulled up my database and searched for any individuals who had “IL” or “Illinois” in any of their fields. I found four. 4! Yikes.
It turns out one of those four is a surname I’ve done quite a bit of research on: Dimick. However, this line of the Dimicks is a collateral line that I have spent no time researching until now. The only information I had was from an undocumented (no sources given) compiled genealogy from Dr. Alan Dimick. He has compiled an impressive amount of research on all of the known Dimicks in this country since the 1600s. However, there are very few sources (a few names of contributors now and then) so I can’t be sure how accurate it is. I actually find this situation to be a lot of fun. A compiled genealogy is full of clues and breadcrumbs to be followed. I personally love working with them.
The entry in my database was for a daughter of Jeduthan Dimick, Sarah. Jeduthan is the cousin of my ancestor who moved to Ohio from New Hampshire. His daughter Sarah Dimick, according to this compiled genealogy, married a man named Sanders Scroggins. Sanders Scroggins. I’m sorry, but that name is so rare and odd that I had to take it on. There was also a compiled genealogy on the Scroggins family (the surname was more prevalent than I thought it would be) available online.
With these two compiled genealogies as a starting point, I was on my way. I spent the next couple of weeks learning as much as possible about the geographic area and the individuals as possible using the Internet. As any good researcher will do, I scoured the Internet from the comfort of my home office in my slippers, hot coffee in hand, and learned as much as possible before stepping foot outside and spending one dollar on gas or one minute driving to a repository.
I am a mom with two children still at home. When I began this genealogy journey my son was just 5 months old. He’s almost 13 now and my daughter is 10. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to be involved and not grumpy when the car takes a side trip to visit a cemetery or library. When I take a research trip to Wood County, Ohio I am usually there to visit my family and often our trips are too short. I like to combine the research with the visiting to maximize the time we have together: “Hey grandma, let’s go to the cemetery and you can tell me about your great-grandparents and their families.” Taking your family along on research expeditions can be a fun way to get them talking about your ancestors and getting them more interested in what you are doing.
I’m not above bribery. When I take my children to a cemetery I offer them a small fee (25¢ for even looking) and a prize for who finds the tombstone (50¢). It motivates them and makes it easier for me to have little energetic legs tromping around the cemetery. My son is especially good at finding the tombstones. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken him to the cemetery, given him the name we are looking for and he’s off in a flash, zig-zag across the cemetery. In no time at all I hear “found it!” sometimes even before I’ve had a chance to get started! (By the way, he is for hire.)
With the older family members it is sometimes just nice to get them out of the house and to a place they probably haven’t been in a long time. My grandma especially likes to drive around out in the country reminiscing about times gone by, who lived on which farm, who she went to school with, and the fun (and not so fun) times she had. My dad seems to like the thrill of the chase, like finding items on a scavenger hunt. If you have reluctant relatives, you might offer to buy them lunch if they come along.
Combine your research trips with visiting with relatives. Take notes (well, not if you are the one driving) or record conversations on your phone or with a digital recorder. Or have an able person in the car take notes while you’re driving. At any rate, conversation will tend to revolve around what you are looking for. Memories will be triggered when you are looking for Great-Aunt Martha’s grave. You’ll want to be sure to get those memories down on paper.
Involving your family members in your research jaunts can be very rewarding and fun. It might give you the opportunity to connect with some relatives you don’t get to see very often. Whatever you do have fun and enjoy the journey!
A vital piece to a serious genealogist’s research, whether you travel far or stick to online and local sources, is a research log. There are several great templates online you can locate through Google searches. There are some available at Ancestry and Family Search. A research log helps you avoid duplicating work and can be a great assistant when it comes to write source citations.
There are several ways to create a research log. Here are a few ideas:
word processing document
paper forms – Although I try to be as paperless as possible, sometimes paper is your best option. I always enter the data eventually into my spreadsheet so that I can use “find” and “search” functions to locate specific items.
Within the document you might want to have several columns to keep track of the following (or create your own):
who (specifically or the surname) you are hoping to find
record sets (call numbers or other identifiers to make it easy to locate)
an open column for making notes
a cell for recording the proper source citation (this can be used to later cut and paste into your articles, software, onto digital documents, and so forth, cutting down on some tedious work in the future)
Below is a terribly small example of what I’m describing:
You want to be sure to include enough information in this log to at least know where you’ve looked. This log is something you can add to every time you do more research, simply add a new date.
Your log can be as extensive or as simple as you want. If you use a spreadsheet, it can be as wide as you’d like, no paper size limitations! Spreadsheets also have the advantage of having “sheets” within the same document. [If you are using Excel, there are tabs for sheets at the bottom toward the left. If you are using Mac Pages, they are in the navigator on the left side of the screen.] You can have one document for each surname and then within, each sheet can be for a different repository where you’ve researched for that surname. Or you can create a system of your own. The important thing is that you create one, use it, add to it and check back before you do more research so you don’t duplicate what you’ve already done.
I mentioned before that I had ordered the same obituary 3 times. I have now put it in my research log, documenting that the lady (with the same name as my ancestor) is not mine. Giant bold letters now say “DO NOT ORDER THIS DOCUMENT AGAIN!!!” But the trick for me is to consult my log before I do it! I tend to think I’ll remember, but obviously, three obituaries later, I have some memory issues.
Once you have identified your research goals, you will need to make a plan to reach those goals. It is not enough to have a goal, a goal needs an action plan. This plan might consist of a list of steps, an inventory of sources, a map and itinerary of repositories to visit, and so forth. When planning a research trip, a research plan is vital to staying focused, being efficient and getting the most out of your time.
Your plan should cover these elements:
where you plan to visit
what records you plan to look at
what/who you expect to find in those records
brief biographical information on the ancestor to help you id the right person or other information such as a cemetery section to help you locate what you’re looking for
A plan can be expanded to also become your research log (see the next post for more details on the research log).
When traveling, I tend to drive if I have the time. I like being able to go to cemeteries, local libraries, history museums and courthouses that are on the way (or only slightly out of the way). I enjoy seeing the areas where my ancestors lived, walking on land they used to own, and seeing the documents they wrote with their own hands. You can’t really get a good idea of what our great country is like if you are in a plane 30,000 feet up. I do love a good road trip.
When planning your trip, use your genealogy software and locate target areas along the way. Seek out which cemeteries you could reasonably visit. Print out maps and directions to get you there. Planning ahead with a map is easy using tools like Google Maps. In 2011, I was on a very short trip visiting my relatives in Ohio. I planned a day’s tour through 4 cemeteries using Google Maps “My Places” feature. You can view the map here: Google Map of Cemetery Tour. Using this feature, I can locate the cemeteries, see the quickest route between them, make notes of the graves I am looking for – this was my research plan for that trip. [Tip: You can print these out in case there is a poor cell signal on your journey. There’s nothing worse than getting to a remote cemetery and not being able to access your research plan, trust me!]
The process of planning ahead can be fun, will give you the opportunity to be more efficient and will allow you to do some research you might have missed if you hadn’t planned ahead.
So, I went “on the clock” (for BCG certification) in December 2012. In the meantime a lot of “life” has happened but a lot of “life” is going to happen when you take a step like this. I’m the type of person who needs a deadline, so I went on the clock. Once I sat down and tried to locate a family/problem for my case study, I got concerned. One look at my office, my binders, my computer files, told me that I was horribly unorganized and I needed to do a lot of catching up, fixing, data entry (I have a thumb drive with scans from Salt Lake City from 2009 that I haven’t worked with yet!) and organizing, before I could even make an educated guess on the case study.
Well, in the last week, I went through a very large pile of notes with “to-do” items on them, some dating back to 2003. They said things like “find tombstone for …” or “locate obit for …” or one sticky note “I am not convinced that ––– is really –––’s father.” (Names being left out in case this REALLY is my case study.) That one sticky note sent me on a swirl of reviewing documents, notes, computer files, quick look-ups on Ancestry and FamilySearch. I MAY just have found my case study. I have a few pieces of indirect evidence but nothing conclusive that says who the parents of my subject are.
This project is so counter-intuitive for the genealogist. If you’ve never reviewed the Case Study requirements for the BCG portfolio, it basically requires that you use the genealogical proof standard to solve a problem of conflicting evidence or by using of indirect evidence. I know that I have many of these in my family research, but finding a good one can be challenging. And then, what happens when you start to work hard on it and then find that piece of direct evidence? … ah … back to square one.
I did get through my pile of to-dos and either figured out that they had been done (recycled), or if they were easy to do (just did it), or they went into my Evernote to-do list (then recycled). Now, on to some research! So pray for my project, that I find no direct evidence on this man’s parentage and instead am able to locate a lot of really good indirect evidence!
It has been about a month since I attended RootsTech. I wanted to let the dust settle a bit before I wrote about it. It was an enjoyable trip. As a mom of two kids, ages 10 and 12, it was a nice break from reality. Grandpa came and took care of the kids so my husband and I could attend. The best part was not having to worry if everyone had eaten or had their homework done.
The second best part was when we checked in at the conference hotel, we were told that the organizers of RootsTech had arranged for free self-parking and a free breakfast buffet every morning! That alone saved my husband and I around $200. What a deal! We also frequented a restaurant that was new to us, the Blue Lemon. It had healthy food with gluten-free options that were reasonably priced and not at all far away from the conference center and library.
The conference itself was full of energy. If you’ve read anything about RootsTech (everyone else has already blogged about it by now) I’m sure you know that it was the biggest one yet with over 6,700 attendees! There were people I knew there that I never saw! It was very exciting and full of great ideas, forward thinkers and new products. I am going to highlight a few of my favorite programs or products beyond the big sponsors and obvious happenings of the conference, which have already been written about:
D. Joshua Taylor gave a very interesting program on “Gaming and Virtual Realities: Attracting the Next Generation of Genealogists” which highlighted some very intriguing comparisons between gamers and genealogists, probably most profound is that each group can sit at a screen and “waste” hours of time every day, yet neither feels like it is a waste of time. Also, each group, when they get really into it, keep amazing records. I know gamers who will keep detailed notes about how to solve the games or strategies that have worked, etc. Doesn’t that sound like a genealogist’s research log?
Evidentia was there showcasing their exciting new software that guides your research through the genealogical proof standard. You can download a free 30-day trial (for MAC or PC) at: http://ed4becky.com/products/evidentia/
Kin2 is still in Beta but it has some great potential to be a fun website. It uses Facebook connections and a large celebrity database to find out who you are related to and how. Currently there’s no gedcom upload possibilities yet, but when I spoke with the representative at the booth, he said that was one of the first things they would be implementing. Also, this site has some very cool pedigree charts, very modern looking and not at all like your basic pedigree chart.
Another new product that is “coming summer 2013” is HalfTale.com. It is sort of a collaborative blogging, family history, oral history tool. It is hard to describe, however the tour I was given had me very excited. Often I will email a relative and ask them a simple question “Do you know what happened to grandpa’s military uniform and medals?” to which I will get a several paragraph reply with all kinds of memories about that question and others. This site will be a way to collaboratively answer those questions and create “walls” or “pages” on various ancestors that many family members can contribute to. It’s not available yet, but you can sign up for a beta test account.
The worst part: the internet was either incredibly slow or at capacity and you couldn’t get on at all. For being a “tech” conference, you’d think they would plan on a lot of internet-ready gadgets. I like to look at the websites the speakers are showing, while they are talking, and was completely unable to. In addition, the hotel internet was very, very slow. So connectivity was limited for the week. Another aspect that was something of a let down for us, most of the sessions we attended seemed to be a bit basic for the level we are at. My husband, who is a developer, felt like many of the sessions he attended did not go into the depth he expected or would have liked to have attended. Personally, I attended several that were marked with “I” for intermediate in the program and felt that they were more like beginner level sessions. I struggled to find sessions that challenged me and brought me completely new ideas.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience. I enjoyed the exhibit hall the most, learning about new products, services, and learning opportunities as well as talking to other genealogists, developers, speakers and other collaborators. Next year, Rootstech will take place on February 6-8, 2014 again in the Salt Palace. I am looking forward to hopefully attending again with my hubby! We had a great time.
I have been working really hard on the formal education piece of genealogy. I am nearly done with the National Genealogical Society’s American Genealogy: A Home Study Course, I recently began studying with ProGen16 and in just a few weeks I will be heading to GRIP (Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh) to take Josh Taylor‘s course “Beneath the Homepage.” I have been learning so much and so quickly that I have had little time for writing or blogging. There are several really amazing experiences that have happened lately in my genealogy world and I will be sharing them soon!
Until then, happy hunting and may you find your ancestors!