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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When was the last time you checked primary sources?

I was looking at the website for our local City of Mesa Public Library and I noticed the following description of services:
  • Reference and research assistance on Mesa topics
  • Access to archival manuscripts and oral histories documenting a diverse citizenry and prominent Mesans; personal papers and biographies of founding families; archival records of Mesa community organizations and businesses; current information on Mesa schools, businesses, and organizations; maps of Mesa, past and present; and photographs of Mesa and its peoples
  • Access to current publications, as well as permanent historic records created by Mesa municipal agencies
  • Programs, workshops, and outreach to help Mesans learn about their heritage and how to preserve it
  • Consulting for individuals, agencies, and organizations on preservation of historical records and disaster mitigation and recovery
I began wondering how many times genealogical researchers seek out original source material stored in libraries, archives, historical societies and other repositories around the world? I am certain that this is not a common as you might suppose. I mentioned before that we have an active organization of "professional" genealogists in our state, but I have never seen or met any of these people at the Mesa FamilySearch Library except those who actually work there. This has often caused me to wonder whether or not the genealogical community, for the most part, relies on the "easily" obtainable records online and ignores records that may not be indexed or organized?

I ran across this website from the University of Idaho called Repositories of Primary Sources. The site has been maintained since at least 1995 and has over 5000 repositories listed worldwide. This type of list is valuable for the reason that it gives a graphic example of the places genealogists hardly use or look at. What is important to realize about these locations is the amount of material that is unindexed, unorganized and simply sitting in boxes or on shelves. I thought I might give an example of what I am talking about by listing all of the items cataloged on one of my ancestors sitting in the University of Utah Special Collections Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am adding that list to the end of this post.

As you look at the list below, think about the number of documents in this one collection in one library in one city in a state where I do not live. Then look at the website referenced above and click on the list of repositories in the state of Massachusetts or New York. You might want to look at Pennsylvania or Ohio. How long would it take you to determine that these repositories did not have any information about your family? You might be able to understand why I think it is ludicrous when some one tells me that they have searched everywhere to find an ancestor. That type of statement tells me the person has no idea what types and quantity of records are sitting in libraries and other repositories across the country and around the world.

When you look at the list below, think about all the other names of people mentioned in this one individual's "papers." How many of the descendants of these people know that there is information sitting in boxes and folders in the University of Utah Special Collections Library under my ancestor's name? Notice the list of diaries and other materials from various people in this one file.

Sometimes I just sit there staring at my computer screen and feeling the huge weight of all the records I will never have time to review or organize during my lifetime. I feel so sorry for people who waste time researching without knowing where or how to look for information. I also feel sad when I talk to people who give up looking because the don't want to take the time to do systematic actual research into what documents and sources are available.

One observation, note that there is a 24 hour notice requirement and that parts of these records might be restricted. Why?

Well, here is the list. Just think about what might be located in a library where your ancestors lived, waiting to be examined:

Collection Overview +/-

Title:John Hamilton Morgan papers
Dates:1845-1986 (inclusive)
Collection Number:Accn1465
Summary:The John Hamilton Morgan papers (1845-1986) detail the personal, professional, and religious activities of John Morgan (1842-1894), a noted Utah educator and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) leader.
Repository:J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah
Special Collections
295 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112

Collection Inventory +/-

box 1: Journals and Letters
folder 1-16: Typescript of John Morgan's Journal (1875-1892)
folder 17: Handwritten Letters from John Morgan (1874-1888)
folder 18: John Morgan, Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ, Its Faith and Teachings
volume 1: "Volume 1, Letters and Articles on the Missionary Labors of Pres. John Morgan" (1872-1879)
volume 2: "Volume 2, Letters and Articles on the Missionary Labors of Pres. John Morgan" (1879-1894)
box 2: Letters and Personal Papers
folder 1: Miscellaneous Typescript Letters From John Morgan (1863-1886)
folder 2-12: Typescript Letters from John Morgan to Church Leaders (1878-1887)
folder 13: Miscellaneous Letters to John Morgan (1877-1878)
folder 14: Report of Southern Emigrants (1877)
folder 15: John Morgan, "Riding the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1878"
folder 16: Typescript of Speeches and Services Given by John Morgan (1888-1893)
folder 17: Quotations from the Patriarchal Blessing of John Morgan (1875)
box 3: Missionary and Government Work
folder 1: List of Missionaries and Dates of Service
folder 2: Missionary Records for the Southern States Mission (1875-1888)
folder 3: List of the Converts of John Morgan on First Mission (1876)
folder 4: List of Meetings Attended by John Morgan on Second and Third Missions (1878-1880)
folder 5: List of Conferences Established by John Morgan while Organizing the Southern States Mission (1882)
folder 6: Gospel Messages
folder 7: Missionary Names and Addresses
folder 8-9: Typescript of Southern States Mission Reports (1875-1887)
folder 10-16: "Settlement of San Luis Valley, Colorado by the Mormon People in 1878"
folder 17: Articles Concerning the San Luis Valley Settlements
"The Founding of Mormon Settlements in the San Luis Valley, Colorado," by Andrew Jenson; "The San Luis Valley, Colorado. The Beginning of its Early Colonization by Mormons," by D. H. Christensen.
folder 18: San Luis Valley, Colorado (1878-1888)
Items contain geographic and demographic information.
folder 19: Governor and Appropriation Bill of 1884, Utah Territorial Legislature
folder 20: John Morgan's Reaction to the Shooting of an Elder (1884) (1886)
folder 21: Salt Lake Academy and the Chambers of Commerce (1881-1894)
folder 22-25: Historical Monument Dedications and Corporation Beginnings (1848-1898)
Organizations and monuments included are Salt Lake Theater Company, Bowery, Pioneer Park, Liberty Park, Fort Douglas, Salt Lake schools, the Old and New Tabernacle, Utah Affair, Zion's Corporation Mercantile Institution, Union Academy, and others.
folder 26: Presidents and First Counselors to the President of the LDS Church
folder 27-42: Church Business and Decisions (1867-1887)
box 4: Research Material
folder 1-32: Typed Version of John Morgan's Journal Told in the Third Person (1875-1892)
folder 33: Notes for Corrections of John Morgan's Journal
box 5: Research Materials
folder 1-10: Narrative Based on the Diaries of John Morgan
folder 11: Historic Events in the Life of John Morgan
folder 12-13: Research Material on his Soldier Career
folder 14-16: Information, Photographs and Maps of the Civil War
folder 17: Information and Photographs about John Morgan and his Family
folder 18: Letters Written About John Morgan (1845-1914)
folder 19: An Article Written About John Morgan (1982)
folder 20-21: Miscellaneous Biography Research Material
folder 22: John Morgan "Experiences," Published Version (1964)
folder 23-25: John Morgan "Experiences," Drafts
folder 26-27: Photographs of Missionary Work in Manassa, Colorado (1877-1910)
folder 28: Photographs of Missionary Work in Pueblo, Colorado (1970-1986)
folder 29: Information and Photographs about the Death of John Morgan and Other Church Members
folder 30: "In Memoriam" and Other Tributes to John Morgan (1947-1959)
box 6: Research Materials
folder 1: Rough Draft of John Morgan Biography
folder 2-4: Final Draft of John Morgan Biography
folder 5-6: Matthias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor, Correspondence (1877-1882)
folder 7: History of Matthias F. Cowley
folder 8: Diary of James Thomas Lisonbee (1876-1877)
folder 9: History of Ellen Amelia Johnson Lisonbee
folder 10: History of Annie Catherine Christensen
folder 11: History of the Kirtland Family (1944)
folder 12: "Louis M. Peterson in Connection with Hans Jensen Mission"
This article was taken from "Histories of the Old Council House of Manti" (1935), and this copy was made July 10, 1947.
folder 13: Miscellaneous Papers Pertaining to John Morgan

Content Description +/-

The John Hamilton Morgan papers (1845-1986) detail the personal, professional, and religious activities of John Morgan (1842-1894), a noted Utah educator and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) leader. The collection includes letters (1875-1894) and journals (1875-1892) written while Morgan served as a Union soldier in the Civil War; while he conducted LDS Church business as a missionary leader and a ranking member of the LDS Church hierarchy; and while he acted on political issues. Official papers concerning LDS Church affairs and Morgan's government involvement, as well as biographical and religious articles written by and about John Morgan, also appear in the collection. Much of the collection's information concerns the settlement of the San Luis Valley, Colorado, where many LDS converts settled after arriving there (under Morgan's leadership) from the newly-formed Southern States Mission. While most of the material originated in Morgan's lifetime, collections of his inspirational stories, tributes to his memory, and a biography were produced posthumously.

Collection Use +/-

Restrictions on Access:
Twenty-four hours advance notice encouraged. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.


  1. Finding a primary source like that is like winning the genealogy lottery - there's a practically endless amount of information that you can gather from this sort of archive.

    The problem is what you've mentioned in your article - its hard to find some of these items and hard to use them. If my ancestor is a one line item in one page that's sitting in a box somewhere, he's not going to be listed in a card catalog or in the digitized image (if we're lucky) as a source.

    What has to happen is that you have the time to go through all the primary sources in an area and see if they just so happen to mention your ancestor. Its grueling, painstaking work that can take months. I can't devote the time to it now since I'm working full time and my family is from another state, but I dream of the day when I could go through primary sources like this and see what I can find.

    The other part of the factor is that the availability of primary sources highly varies depending on where your ancestor was, how rich they were, how long they stayed in one area, and the value that the area places on primary sources. Michigan, for example, has much less available than surrounding states because they don't fund as many libraries and archives (my home state and where my ancestors lived).

    1. Exactly, but denying the all that searching is necessary sometimes is not productive.

  2. Concetta. I read your comment about Michigan and agree, it's not always an easy state to research in. However, I have worked around it and find more and more items online. I have also spent time in courthouses, historical societies and libraries in several states. Those experiences have been rewarding and very worthwhile. I hope that some day you too can have the "fun" I have had at those types of locations.
    Thanks to James for this interesting post. I appreciate the info.

    Happy hunting,
    Michigan Girl