Ancestral hunters may need help learning to use their equipment or finding the best hunting grounds. Also, although they might not realize it yet, they may want others with whom they can share their adventure. Who cares if you just found the best specimen of wildlife after a week-long venture if you have no one to share it with? Likewise, after months of searching for a lost ancestor, how wonderful it is to share the news with a like-minded associate who appreciates all the details of the story.
In fact, I think the last item is so important I would like to address it first. This lesson will cover several organizations and places which can not only motivate, and provide support, but can also guide you to sources, and generally help you do genealogy more effectively. I like to think of these organizations as "Trail Guides" for genealogists because they often put genealogists on the right track when they have wandered off the trail somewhere.
One of the easiest places for getting motivated and sharing ideas is right on the Internet. Use your Web browser to locate other genealogists researching your same name. Pretty soon you will be striking up a conversation and enjoying new vistas of research.
However, if you like more "human" contact, a local genealogy society is a wonderful place to go. By locating a friendly group of local genealogists, you will have more than enough encouragement in your new pursuit. There are many ways to find a local genealogy society.
Genealogy societies may be located by obtaining the membership directory of the Federation of Genealogy Societies (P.O. Box 830220, Richardson, TX 75083-0220, or by phone 1-888-FGS-1500). This membership manual is updated yearly in the summer months and lists the officers, meeting locations, their publications, and much more.
Another way to locate a society who has a telephone listing is by using a CD-ROM telephone directory. Addresses are also available in the Genealogist's Address Book or by using the Handybook for Genealogists (somewhat outdated but still contains many good suggestions).
Don't forget to also look at genealogy societies outside of your city. If you live hundreds of miles away from your ancestral roots, you can find others who have already searched your line or have the records in their possession by joining a local society in that area and putting queries in their newsletter. Local societies also produce published books and indexes which you would only learn about by joining these societies and obtaining their newsletters.
Genealogy societies provide a wonderful resource to a community by gathering, storing, and preserving the records in their local areas. They also reach out with training classes and guidance for those who are beginners.
Various Types of Genealogy Societies
There are several types of genealogical societies including societies who pursue one surname (such as The Rose Family Organization), or one topic (such as Palatines in America ). There are others who help you operate your computer hardware or programs more effectively. For example, the Silicon Valley PAF Users Group is an organization which helps people who use the Personal Ancestral File computer program.
Several societies are state-wide societies (such as the Ohio Genealogical Society ) and they provide pioneer heritage certificates or publish books such as a pedigree listing of their members. Look in their publications and find out what is available. Even if you do not join the society, you may be able to contribute information if your ancestors came from a particular area. These publications are listed in the FGS Membership Directory.
Several states have umbrella organizations that disseminate information throughout their state and notify their members of the potential closure of records (such as the California State Genealogical Alliance and the Utah Genealogical Association ).
Some genealogical societies are regional in nature, have existed for decades, and have a genealogy library of books to share for a fee with their membership (such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society ). Others are national in scope and provide classes by correspondence (such as the National Genealogical Society ).
Most, however, are small genealogy societies made up of a group of like-minded genealogists who enjoy the pursuit of family history.
Start Your Own
If you do not find a local genealogy society in your area, it is very easy to organize one. Information is available through the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Publications are available through FGS for setting up your bylaws, selecting leaders, and receiving training. Yearly strategy papers are provided by the Federation to help you set up meetings, find topics and speakers, raise funds and generally organize a society to meet your needs. The titles of some of those strategy papers may be found on their Internet site at http://www.fgs.org/~fgs/ .
A users group is an organization of people who are using the same computer program. They unite together to find various ways of using that program and to give support to one another. The Silicon Valley PAF Users Group is made up of thousands of people in and outside the San Jose, California area. Users groups are helpful when you are just starting to use your computer program. By attending just a few lessons you might become very proficient in the use of your specific program. Users groups can usually be found by contacting the local genealogical societies in the area or a community college which has a computer center. These groups are constantly looking for mentors to help others. Perhaps you could help someone use the computer program you enjoy using.
Finding the Best Hunting Ground"
Now that we have found ways to share experiences and learn more about our own equipment, let's discuss how to find the best hunting grounds. This is where a local Family History Center enters the picture."
What is a Family History Center?
A Family History Center is a branch of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. They are located across the U.S. and in several other countries around the world. Their primary mission is to help visitors accomplish genealogical research by using the records provided by the Family History Library. These records include the FamilySearch computer system which enables individuals to search the International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File, the Social Security Death Index, the Military Death Records (for Korea and Vietnam), and the Family History Library Catalog, all of which we have discussed in earlier lessons. In addition, countless rolls of primary as well as secondary sources are available on loan via microfilm and microfiche through the centers.
How can I find out where a Family History Center is located?
You may obtain a list of the major centers by calling Family History Center support at 1-800-346-6044. Or you may look in your telephone book under The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and find a center near you. Although the centers are operated, maintained and supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they are open to the public and information is shared by all. We pay them back for their generosity by contributing our family names to Ancestral File, sharing what we have learned, and volunteering to help others.
What information is provided in a Family History Center?
Basic knowledge about how to get started, genealogy research materials, database information, rental of films and fiche, training classes, expert advice and support are some of the main services of a Family History Center.
Information which may be obtained in the Family History Center includes the following:
- How to get started on your family history
- How to record people on family group records and pedigree charts
- How to enter them in a computer program
- How to use the basic databases provided by the LDS Church to find out if others are researching your line
- Basic knowledge about references most helpful to the genealogist
The databases that are available at most Family History Centers are part of the FamilySearch computer program which includes the International Genealogical Index, the Family History Library Catalog, the Ancestral File, the Military Death Index, and the Personal Ancestral File computer program.
You may rent microfilm and microfiche listed in the Family History Library Catalog at a cost of approximately $3.25 each. They may be kept at the Family History Center from six weeks to several months, depending on the popularity of the item and the amount of rental time you need. The films and fiche contain such things as microfilmed copies of the original published histories on families, county histories, county cemeteries, vital records, probate, land or property records, church records, census and tax records, immigration records, naturalization records, and innumerable other records.
Training classes or seminars may be offered in your local Family History Center or by a genealogy society. They'll help get you started on genealogy and increase your knowledge. In several Family History Centers, there are also volunteers who can provide you with advice. If they can't help you, there are publications known as Research Outlines (published by the Family History Library) and other research guides available for helping you do genealogical research.
The Research Cycle
Now that you have your family materials gathered together and you've started to find documents to prove your family stories and traditions, you begin what is called the "research cycle."
- First, you organize your ideas
- Then you use available information to set a goal
- Decide which source to use to get to that goal
- Locate the source
- Search the source
- Copy the information
- Evaluate the information you have found
- Reorganize your materials and ideas (go back to 1).
The research cycle repeats itself over and over hundreds of times. Let's practice for a moment.
Ask yourself, "What is it I want to know?" This becomes your goal. When you set a goal for yourself, be sure to make it a narrow goal. For example, don't attempt to find your Revolutionary War ancestor when you still need to find the birth place of your grandfather. Focus in on a specific aspect of the ancestor's life as well. Rather than saying, "I want to find everything I can about my grandfather," say, "I want to find the death date of my grandfather, John Thomas, who died about 1930-40 in Chicago, Illinois." Now that is a very specific goal.
Sometimes it is necessary to break down a goal into smaller objectives. As you practice the research process, you will be able to set better goals because you will see the value of being focused on smaller pieces of information at a time.
Once you have selected a goal for an individual, see if you can associate any significant historical events with dates associated with the goal. For example, were there any national wars going on during his adulthood? Was there a migration movement within the state during her journey to a particular area? Do any of these dates raise questions in your mind? Could the facts indicate that a person may have married twice? Are any of the events mentioned earlier significant enough to have caused a classification of records to be kept? Could any facts in-and-of-themselves be topics for research?
- Always go from known information to unknown information.
- Don't skip generations or sources.
- Within reason, get all the individuals of the same surname in the same local area.
- Find the county jurisdiction as it exists today. Use a modern road atlas or map.
- Analyze the locality. Are you sure you know the name of the county or territory as it existed at the time of the event? Use gazetteers of the time period, geographical dictionaries, maps, and books to guide you to county formation.
- List all sources you search, BOTH negative and positive.
- Determine what others have already discovered as you move backwards in time by conducting the preliminary survey discussed in Lesson One of this course.
- Map out your research by writing out your plan.
Writing Out Your Plan"
A good research planner includes a place for your specific goal, the name of the repository where you did your research, the call number for the item you looked at, the date you searched it, a description of the source, the purpose for looking at the specific source (for example, you might have as a goal to find the ancestral birthplace of an ancestor born in Germany, but the reason you are looking him up in the 1920 census is because that census told the region of Germany a person was born in), the time period covered by your search, any notes you wish to take, whether the item was indexed or not, what kind of condition the item was in, and a place to note where a copy or extract of the material was placed if you need to refer to it again."
You can take a look at a sample of my research planner right now.
Getting a handle on all this new information can be a bit intimidating at first, but oh, it is so worthwhile to actually find success in your research. Let me share a story with you from one of my students which was just given to me a few weeks ago.
I'll Miss This Class
"I'm sorry to say that I cannot remember a class in which I was, as a student, less constitutionally inclined to follow the processes as instructed. For the first half of the semester, I rebelled at the idea of having to zero my focus in on an obscure and nearly unreadable census record or some old land records. And for the second half of the semester, after I finally understood the reasons for such searches and the satisfaction that could come from them, I found that once I was in the Family History Center or an archive, everything sensible I'd learned and intended to apply flew right out of my head in my excitement to search a film or a computer database."
I Think I'm Getting the Hang of It
"During the past three weeks or so, I think I've calmed down a bit. Curiously (and perhaps not coincidentally), I have had some success recently in locating small bits of information about various ancestors, but I'm still not very tidy or methodical about my searches. For example, if I'm looking in Dollarhide's book at maps of boundary changes, I won't stop in Pennsylvania--the state I originally wanted to search--I'll go on to look at Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois "just out of curiosity"; then that will remind me of another ancestor, and soon I'm looking up information on someone three states away from the search I had started on. . . . I am confident, however, that I will get my impulses firmly under control as I become accustomed to the whole process of searching and finding and being surprised at what I find."
"I must note that Rick and Arlene at the Family History Center were very helpful to me this past Saturday morning (lucky me--I had them all to myself for the first hour!). They saw me take off like a bunny on a new trail more than once, and gently and with good humor, reminded me each time to keep my focus narrow. I did and it worked."
I thank Maureen Girard for letting me put in her comments. I receive wonderful comments about the volunteers who serve in the Family History Centers all the time, but her comments also remind us that we, too, must keep focused. All of us have felt like Maureen at one time or another. I remember vividly my first visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I had an entire briefcase full of work to do and yet I spent the whole day just going from one neat book to another, enjoying the fun of "just looking." I think we need that sometimes, but if we want to find success, we must discipline ourselves to remain focused.
Decide Upon a Source
Here is where good volunteers can help you. If you tell them your goal, they can guide you to sources which might answer that goal. The Research Outlines provided by the Family History Library can also guide you to sources. Finally, the Family History Library Catalog can guide you to sources as well. It is important to understand that there are many categories of research topics that the Family History Library uses in their catalog. If you want to find a copy of a birth, marriage, or death record, look under the topic "vital records." If you want to look at tombstone transcriptions, look under "cemeteries." In fact, the easiest thing to do is to just type in a locality and see what categories of records are available.
Locate the Source You've Decided Upon
Now you will need to determine if the source is available on microfiche or microfilm so you can have it sent to your local Family History Center. If it is in book form only, print a copy of the complete library catalog entry and see if you can obtain it at another library. If you would rather not go out hunting for it, you can use the Professional Research Services of Genealogy Research Associates to have them find the records for you.
Record the Information
Once you have located a source, there are several ways to record the information. You may take the source and photocopy, transcribe, extract, abstract, or even scan it onto a diskette for inclusion in your computer program. Since beginning genealogists are not as yet aware of all the ways a document may guide them to other clues, or they may not be able to read handwriting in the various periods, it is a very good idea to have a photocopy or a scanned image of the original document. By doing this, another person will be able to help in the evaluation process, which is the next step.
The Evaluation Process
The reason the evaluation process is considered the most neglected step in the research cycle is because too often only the obvious clues are noted while other valuable clues are totally ignored. The next lesson in this beginning genealogy course will help to overcome this difficulty, because it focuses on documenting your sources.
Evaluating wisely means looking at every word in the document for clues. It also means putting the evidence in the context for which it was created. More information will be given on this topic later.
After evaluating the information it is time to reorganize your papers, as well as your thinking, and see if the source answered your goal. If, not, then try another source. If it did, then set another goal.
This continuous recycling of the process will ultimately bring success.
Other Sources in a Family History Center
As you learn about research techniques and sources, use other valuable records in the Family History Center such as booklets on how to use all their databases, various film register books, area research guides, and reports from the two World Conference on Records (on microfiche). This latter resource is wonderful for learning to do research in foreign countries. You will often find gazetteers, maps, state histories, and numerous other research aids on microfiche at these centers as well.
If your area does not have a genealogy society or a Family History Center, perhaps it does have a local historical society which may have a genealogical group linked to it. In other areas, a public library may have a link with a genealogical and/or historical society. Genealogy and history go hand-in-hand. Perhaps your local historical society may be just the place for you to start. Or, talk to a reference librarian to see if they might guide you to other like-minded individuals. Aside from that, perhaps your focus should be on historical records in a particular place which would guide you to new sources. So, don't discard the value of a historical society which might help you in your research.
Focusing on Events
Turning back again to our genealogical goals, how could this lesson help you focus on either an event, a locality, or an individual? Ask yourself if there could be an organization or society organized around an event that happened to one of your ancestors. Was your ancestor in a war? There are many lineage societies based on an ancestor's service in a particular war. They may have records you could use, and they most certainly would have methodology for solving a military genealogy problem.
Copyright © 1997, Genealogy Research Associates, Inc.
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