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

Friday, March 11, 2016

Record Loss: Strategies for Searching Repositories -- Part Two

The National Archives Building from Constitution Avenue
[I am continuing the post I started about strategies for searching repositories] See Part One:

Step Four

Search on for an archive collection near your location. Here is the description of the website:
ArchiveGrid includes over four million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more. With over 1,000 different archival institutions represented, ArchiveGrid helps researchers looking for primary source materials held in archives, libraries, museums and historical societies. is a good example of a valuable program that is almost never associated with genealogy as such. Genealogists by and large buy into the community and use "genealogy" programs rather than taking advantage of the availability of other tools that can enhance their research efforts.

There are several online lists of state archives. Here are a few of the most useful ones.

“Digital State Archives.” Accessed March 11, 2016.
“List of U.S. State Libraries and Archives.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, February 5, 2016.
“State Archives.” Accessed March 11, 2016.
“State Archives.” Accessed March 11, 2016.
“United States Archives and Libraries | Learn |” Accessed March 11, 2016.
“United States Archives and Libraries | Learn |” Accessed March 11, 2016.

Step Five

 Before visiting a record repository, determine its local rules of use. Some repositories, such as the U.S. National Archives have elaborate and detailed instructions for researchers. See Plan Your Research Visit. For example, at the U.S. National Archives, here is a list of items prohibited in the research rooms:

  • Food or drink
  • Coats, overcoats, jackets, or other types of outerwear*
  • Hats, caps, or scarves (religious head coverings are permitted)
  • Large purses, fanny packs, briefcases, suitcases, handbags, backpacks, bags, equipment bags, computer cases, etc.
  • Envelopes, notebooks, pads, binders, folders**
  • Pens, markers, or “Post-it” notes**
  • Auto-fed scanners
  • Flash photography or artificial light source
  • Personal copiers – self-service copiers are available (for a fee)
  • Multiple CDs or DVDs 

* NARA staff will determine if sweaters or other garments are considered outerwear. We rely on the judgment of our staff to determine if any garment could damage or conceal records.
** NARA provides pencils, notepaper, and other supplies in the Research Rooms.

Depending on the formality of the location, there may be more or less the same types of restrictions.

Step Six

Records from the locations where your ancestors lived may have migrated across the world. I mentioned how records from Europe could be found in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, but this is just one example of record movement. A huge collection of records about my Great-grandfather who lived in Northern Arizona can be found in the University of Utah Special Collections Library, also in Salt Lake City, Utah. There is really no logic or systematic plan that you can follow to find records about your ancestors. You must cast a wide net. In every state of the United States there are several colleges and universities with special collections libraries. Don't overlook these valuable research locations. In the case where you suspect or know that the records may have been lost, look even further afield for additional helpful records.

When you visit a record repository

On several occasions I have found myself with some unplanned "free time" to visit a record repository. For this reason, I always carry a camera. Assuming cameras are allowed, I can take notes by making photos of book pages (including a copy of the title page for further reference) and any other materials I come across. I even use my camera to take images of projected microfilm. Always check the images for readability before returning the item to the shelf and leaving the repository. Some libraries and archives that prohibit scanners will allow photography without a flash. Here is an example of a document I captured with my iPhone.

It may not be a great photo, but it is readable and useful for research.

While you are at a record repository, focus on the records or items that are unique to that location. One interesting thing I see when people come to the Brigham Young University Family History Library for genealogical research is that they spend their time on the computers working on their own family files and using online resources that are not unique to the University's collections. By and large, they also ignore the books and other resources of the Library.

As you gain experience with libraries and other repositories, you will acquire your own methods of doing research, but this can only happen if you start by going to the nearest library a frequently as possible.

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