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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Using Smart Technology to Jump-Start Your Genealogical Research: Part Nine

Using Billions of digitized source documents in thousands of archive websites: Continued

In real estate sales there is a common statement that the three most important factors affecting value are location, location and location. I can say the same thing about genealogy. The three most important factors in finding your ancestors are location, location and location. Genealogically important records are created at or near the time and place that an event occurs and are created by someone or some entity that either has an interest in creating the record or an obligation to do so. Once a record is created, the real work is finding out where the record has been stored.

Let me give an example. Let's suppose that a baby is born in the United States today. As soon as birth occurs, assuming that the baby is born in a modern hospital, records are created concerning the birth. Those records culminate in the production of a "birth certificate" reflecting information about the parents of the baby and other information. Throughout the United States, those birth records eventually end up being maintained on a state level. Each state maintains those birth records in a different manner and responsibility for maintaining birth records is delegated to a variety of state agencies, usually some kind of health or welfare department. Almost uniformly, the states charge a fee for obtaining a copy of a birth certificate and in most instances, they also limit who can obtain a copy to the person named in the certificate or some close relatives.

In the United States, creation and sale of birth certificates by the states is viewed as a revenue enhancing operation, i.e. the states make money from selling copies of birth certificates. The amount charged varies considerably from state to state. Continuing my example, as time passes and the people named in the state's collection of birth certificates die, the individual documents have less and less value to the state. Some of the states have decided to put certain older birth certificates online for free such as Arizona. See Most states, charge for copies even though the people named in the certificates are long dead.

Birth certificates are a relatively new innovation for governments in the United States. Most genealogical researchers do not realize that government involvement in recording births only became almost universal in the 1900s although some, mostly eastern states recorded birth records much earlier. In addition, because states charge for supplying a copy of a birth certificate and in many cases the process of obtaining one is complicated, a whole cottage industry has been created to "assist" people in obtaining copies of their own birth certificates and those of other relatives. These secondary companies, charge a fee for obtaining the same record that can be obtained directly from the governments usually at a lesser fee.

Once demand for a certain type of document decreases, those people or entities who created the documents have to deal with storage. Here is where the genealogical researcher's job becomes really complicated. As governments and other entities begin to store old records, the records themselves may be moved around and in many cases destroyed or lost. In some cases, the creating entities may no longer have a record of the creation of the documents or where they are stored. Many of these documents find their way into archives, libraries, historical societies and other institutions that are dedicated to preserving records.

Now we are back to the issue of searching for these records online. As I pointed out previously, most of these archival organizations do not open their catalogs to Google searches. The contents of their catalogs are private and protected from direct searches from the Internet. So the genealogical researcher is confronted with the possibility of having to search an endless number of libraries, archives and other repository catalogs with the expectation of possibly finding valuable information.

Fortunately, there are websites that search large numbers of libraries and archives at the same time. These websites are an alternative to searching the individual catalogs but there is still the prospect of searching huge numbers of repositories.

This post will be continued.

Here are the previous posts in this series.

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