Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Transitioning from online to paper research

At some point in your genealogical research, you are going to find out that you have exhausted the online resources pertaining to your ancestor or ancestors. In talking to many researchers over the past year or so, I find that few of them know where to go next. It seems there is a huge gulf between looking online and moving on to research in books and other paper records. Of course, the main obstacle to paper research is the inconvenience of traveling to where the documents are stored. But there are intermediate places to continue your search without the time and expense of traveling.

The first resource is your own local library system. I find many people have a rather negative view of using a local city, county or state library for research, but I can say from my own experience, that these resources can be valuable. For example, I needed an obituary of my uncle. It was no where to be found online, but I found a microfilm copy in my local public library. I have also found the university libraries to be helpful with collections of historical documents. In one case, I found a diary of a neighbor of my Great-grandfather, that talked about my Great-grandfather and his family. This gem was in the Special Collections library of Northern Arizona University.

Many of the local libraries are now connected to online genealogical resources, such as NewsBank, that are unavailable in FamilySearch Centers and only available through the libraries unless you subscribe to One of our local libraries is presenting a series of classes on genealogy. You may find kindred spirits in your local library.

It is also a good idea to plan a trip to your local historical society or museum. You might be surprised at what you will find. If you don't live anywhere near where your ancestors did, you can try getting on the telephone and calling libraries and historical societies in the area to see if there are people locally who might help you with your research. You can also look online to find a professional researcher in the area you are interested in. Some of us do have resources to spend on genealogical research and you might find some valuable information by hiring a professional.

In the end, if you have a good idea about the records that might be available in a particular area, there is no substitute for travel to the location and doing the research. If can be very interesting and challenging to try to find documents in the field, but the challenge is often rewarded by valuable information. I remember sitting a cemetery office outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and asking for documents about my family buried in the cemetery. The lady in charge of the records insisted on producing them one page at a time, rather than letting me see the file and choose what I needed. She must have gone back into her storage area ten or more times before I got what I thought might be all the records.

Just recently, my daughter called me from the middle of a cemetery in Rhode Island to say hello and tell me the grave markers she could see around her. Genealogy may seem sedentary, but it can be an active and exciting pursuit. If you get off your chair and go looking for your ancestors. 

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree James. I've been writing a series called "Beyond the Internet" through 2012. While focused on Australia, many of the concepts, if not specific records, are translatable elsewhere.