I had the absolute pleasure and surprise of being invited to visit the Special Collections at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. The archivist, Megan Firestone, found my name on a list of researchers and invited me up…and of course I accepted! She is an absolute gem and I’m so glad I visited.
I received a lovely tour of the reading room and a peek into some of the backrooms!
This week I visited again with a goal in mind. I asked if they had any old scrapbooks or autograph books. I was not disappointed. After looking at the finding aids and emailing with Megan to decide on what I’d like to see, I made another visit to the archive where they had a large cart of items waiting for me.
I will share a few exciting things here:
I saw so many cool and interesting items. More than I can really share in one post. I will likely highlight some other items in future posts.
I really want to encourage genealogists to visit an archive near you. You do not need to have a research project in mind. Check their website for a catalog or finding aid. Find a topic of interest to you, whatever it might be. Communicate with the archivist, as they might know of items that haven’t been cataloged yet. But go and look at these lovely original treasures.
There is nothing like looking at old letters, scrapbooks, and ephemera that delves into a person’s life in much more detail than a vital record or census enumeration. You get a sense of people’s personalities and some really specific details about their lives. Of course, the trick is finding the items, boxes, and papers that apply to your family, but I believe your research experience can be enhanced by looking at any item in the archive. Rather than looking for a person, search by topic, such as scrapbooks, farming, women’s issues, and so on. Give it a try.
We moved to Texas about three and a half years ago now…my how time flies! Through learning the library systems in the state, which are very different to how they worked in Colorado, I discovered that as a Texas state resident, I am allowed a FREE library card to the Texas State Library, and in particular to their online digital collections! This means that I can access HeinOnline and other useful databases for FREE!
HeinOnline is quite expensive but so useful when doing any law research as it relates to your ancestors, which you should be doing! I also discovered on the Texas State Law Library website that all of the historical Texas statutes are nicely listed and available to anyone (library card or not).
If you live in Texas and would like to get your library card, it can be done online. Click here for instructions. If you live outside of Texas, ask your local librarian or do some online searching to see what offerings are available in your state. There are valuable resources available. Be sure not to miss them!
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:
[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.
[Author’s note: Sorry for the delay between posts! I’ve been exceedingly busy with some projects lately. One of them was preparing for the Northwest Genealogical Conference. I am excited to be presenting three lectures this Friday and Saturday in Arlington, Washington (near Seattle) and took some time to get prepared. I had some other projects in the works as well and so these posts had to wait a little bit. So, without further ado…]
When we relocate everything is different, except for the stuff you brought with you, and even that ends up in different locations. (The spoons are no longer to the left of the sink. They are now in the island drawer.) For the first few months, I had a bit of anxiety when needing to do something simple like go to the grocery store. Traffic patterns are different. Road signage is different. The stop lights are sideways here instead of up and down. It took us a while to locate a decent breakfast restaurant. Not to mention all of the work that went into getting our new driver’s licenses, license plates, health care professionals…I’m still in the process of finding a decent dentist. (I miss you Dr. Simpson in Boulder!)
Moving to a new location forces you to create a new network, a new FAN club. (I described the FAN Club in the previous post.) One of the most common ways to do this is to get to know your neighbors. (Unfortunately, we have found that the neighbors down here are not as friendly and/or talkative as our old neighbors. We miss you Judy and Williams Family!) Our neighbors tend to keep to themselves. In fact most people in our neighborhood keep to themselves. (Except for one child who lives down the block and made friends with my kids… she’s always coming over to visit.) So we are still working on this one.
My favorite way to meet new people, especially like-minded people, is to join a new genealogical society (or three, as I have done). This puts you in contact with others who appreciate family stories, research, sharing tips and tricks for genealogy, and who won’t roll their eyes at you when you start talking about the latest record you located. (Not that my husband does this, but my kids certainly do.) Near me there are two dues-paying societies that I have joined, the Austin Genealogical Society and the Williamson County Genealogical Society. There is also an informal genealogy group that meets at the Pflugerville Public Library. I have also joined the Texas State Genealogical Society. They don’t have monthly meetings but do have many member benefits, one of which I’ve already benefited from: their speaker’s bureau. I’ll have the pleasure of speaking to the Central Texas Genealogical Society meeting in a couple of weeks.
Other ways to meet people and get acquainted with new people includes volunteering for those genealogical societies or other community organizations such as the library, school, or animal shelter, finding a new church or other house of spirituality, attend events in the community such as festivals or neighborhood events, or take a class (art, exercise, dance, cooking, etc). These are just some of the ways to expand your FAN club after you relocate. These can be quite fun and engaging.
As an aside, an interesting thing I’ve realized after relocating: I didn’t have to give up my Colorado friends as much as I did when we moved during my childhood. Back then, keeping in touch involved actual letters sent via the US Postal Service (*gasp*) or long distance phone calls that were expensive, both of which are being eradicated from our modern lives. The internet has allowed me to keep in touch through social media and video chatting and smart phones allow these communications to happen anywhere. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I moved to a town very near where one of my best Colorado pal’s parents live, so I get to see her every time she comes to visit them. The same is true with my kids. They still chat, text and video call their friends from Colorado. Even though we may have spread out physically as a society, the internet has brought us the ability to remain connected in ways our ancestors would probably find magical or mystical. (Heck, I find it to be magical myself.)
[Author’s note: I recently relocated with my family to a suburb of Austin, Texas. Yes, I am now experiencing the sweltering heat, the suffocating humidity and the excitement of learning about a new area. But we bought a house with a pool so I will have a chance to survive! Thus, this post came out a little later than I expected. I am without internet access (except for time spent at my local Starbucks) so getting my online life back together is going to take a little while, but bear with me and thanks for reading!]
Last week the Federation of Genealogical Societies hosted their annual conference in San Antonio, TX which has to have been my favorite conference so far. And not necessarily for the reasons you might think. Here are my three favorite things from the FGS conference:
One of the most exciting research tools I learned more about at this conference are the advances being made with PERSI by Find My Past (FMP). They are working to make it this elusive index more accessible to researchers. PERSI stands for the PERiodical Source Index which indexes genealogical society publications, both small and large, and contains 2.5 million indexed articles from 8k publications. The Find My Past website states:
“The PERiodical Source Index (PERSI) enables you to easily locate key information about people and places. It contains over 2.5 million entries from thousands of historical, genealogical and ethnic publications, making it an invaluable, comprehensive family history resource.”
So far 21k page have been digitized and are available to view on the site! The index is free to use with a registered account (free) and pages ordered through the ACPL. The available images can be viewed online with a FMP subscription.
FMP is focused on connecting with editors and copyright owners, not only to obtain new content but to get permission to digitize images from those items already indexed in PERSI. FMP also wants to know what geographical areas and publications you are most interested in seeing digitized next. Click here to fill out the survey!
[https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/persisurvey] To contact FMP for more information, to disucss the copyright of your society’s material or find out about email@example.com
PERSI is a resource not to be overlooked. Articles about ancestors, geographic locations, and other topics of interest were published in genealogical journals all across the United States. Without PERSI it would be impossible to know just where to look for that article that might hold the key you need in your research.
2. Preserve the Pensions
What a fun time I had watching how much support given to sponsor a “celebrity” walker! The celebs got up and walked to the Alamo at 6:30 am, before the sun even came up! Judy Russell, Joshua Taylor, Kenyatta Berry and Ed Donakey competed to see who could earn the most donations for the walk. As of Saturday afternoon, the donations from the credit card portion of the campaign were as follows:
These numbers do not include all of the cash and checks supplied by generous conference attendees. Stay tuned to the Preserve the Pension site for more updates.
3. After Hours
After hours socializing is one of my favorite times during conferences. It is a time to relax, talk with friends that you only get to see once or twice each year, and make new connections. I enjoy the time I get to spend developing deeper friendships and learning about my awesome colleagues!
Until next time, friends!
4. The Lectures
Of course all of the lectures I attended were outstanding. Since you can’t attend ALL of the lectures at a large national conference, I rely heavily on the conference recordings to pick up the sessions I wasn’t able to attend. Conference recordings are a great thing to keep in your car for long trips or for running errands. You can purchase conference recordings through Fleetwood Onsite Conference Recordings. My favorite in-person lectures were from J. Mark Lowe, Craig R. Scott, Rev. David McDonald, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Dr. Thomas Jones, and Judy G. Russell.
If you have never had a chance to attend a national conference, it is something you should do at least once. But like potato chips, once you have one you just can’t stop! I’ll see you at the next one!
I have just arrived in San Antonio for the FGS (Federation of Genealogical Societies) Annual Conference. I am excited to be here in Texas this year not only for the conference, but to learn more about the state I will soon call home. That’s right, Genealogy Pants’ home office will be relocating to Austin, Texas next week!
I am excited to learn more about the rich history of this state, see new sights, eat different food, experience a new climate (hot, I know it will be hot) and make some new genealogy friends. This evening I had the pleasure to attend the FGS Delegate’s reception and meet several genealogists who live in the area of my new home.
The conference begins tomorrow with the Focus on Societies Day. Thursday, along with many great-sounding sessions, the exhibit hall will open. I am looking forward to examining all of the Texas-related booths, seeing new publications and products, meeting up with old and new friends, and just generally having a good time! I am also looking forward to supporting the Preserve the Pensions campaign to raise the funds to digitize the War of 1812 pensions.
With all of the fun I anticipate this week, I will be too distracted to worry too much about my upcoming move!