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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
WHAT OUTSIDE SOURCES TO CONTACT...
Public & Provincial Libraries
The library around the corner or the larger downtown research library deserves a visit in the early stages of your research. You may discover that someone in the area has already done some research on your family name, printed a family story and donated a copy to your local library. Wouldn’t that be a pleasant discovery!
Remember, you must still be that detective even if you are simply asking what’s available. If you just say, “what do you have on genealogical research?” you will probably be led to an area of the library with many genealogical books. So much of the valuable information in libraries is not necessarily located on the shelves, but rather in cabinets and drawers or in the stacks behind closed doors and you will want to gain access to this information. If you ask a general question, you will get a general answer. Be specific, in other words, ask for specific items, passenger list, census records, etc., to show you know what you are talking about.
Guides, Finding Aids & Inventories
Ask if the library has a catalog, finding aids or inventories of the holdings. Guides and inventories work like indexes and can help you locate specific information. Sometimes it is not readily apparent that the person assisting you may not know everything there is to know about the genealogical holdings of that library.
Newspapers contain plenty of information for the family historian. They have columns on births, deaths, engagements and weddings. Filing for a divorce and the announcement of the decree were published in newspapers at one time. Appointments to companies are often shown with a picture. Maybe you’ll find one of your ancestors written about for an act of bravery. Some newspapers encouraged people to send in inquiries. When answers were found, they were also published.
Social events were written about, full casts of plays mentioned, graduation lists, parades and celebrations and who organized what. Minutes of meetings may have been published with names of those in attendance.
Legal notices were published, as were land sales, tax rolls, probate of wills, settlement of estates, divorce proceedings and reports of civil and criminal cases. If your ancestor owned a business, there may be an advertisement in the local newspapers. Many individuals offered their services in this way. And, to estimate the approximate year your ancestor left an area, you may find information about ships departing or merchants leaving.
Many people do not use newspapers because they can be difficult and tedious to search. However, inroads are being made and newspapers are being indexed and microfilmed. Maybe you will be lucky and find an index for the newspaper you’re looking for.
Indexes of Various Data
Ask if the library has indexes, even if the data is not available at their location. Ask if the library has biographies or local histories. Biographies of prominent people can often lead to new information. Local histories will usually include biographies of important people in the community, and these can often tell you much more than just the facts; they will tell you the story behind the people.
Periodicals, Magazines, & Newsletters from Genealogical Associations
Find out what kind of periodicals or newsletters or magazines are available from genealogical organizations. Most genealogical societies send out some kind of regular periodical to their members. Due to the enormous amount of information found in these periodicals, many societies have indexed their material. This can be a great time saver for the researcher, otherwise there would just be too many binders full of material to go through. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. In many cases all you need to do is use the indexes to search for either a surname, a date or a location. Many library’s holdings include information which is also held at the public archives, including: church and cemetery records, census records, or land ownership records regarding their own local area or a larger territory.
You may also want to visit or write to the libraries where your ancestors lived. People who work regularly in a specific area may be aware of material of interest to you. Ask the library about inter-library loans. Ask what they know about holdings in other local libraries. If you visit your libraries early on in your research, you’ll make them work for you. As you’re progressing with your research, you will know where you can find the information needed. Your initial visit will not only give you this sense of direction, but it will also make you understand the methods and reasons for a step-by-step action plan.
Private Libraries & Associations
Let us move on now to private libraries and associations. We spoke earlier about genealogical and historical societies. They usually hold
A note of caution: the records we are about to describe are private and therefore are not available just for the asking. Yes, some organizations will make their archives available to researchers, others will research for you, and again others may simply indicate that the records are not available to be researched. The privacy laws in various countries as well as in jurisdictions within those countries, often prevent personal information from being released. And unfortunately, these laws are often becoming much more restrictive. Looking at the website of the organization of interest, may provide their policy regarding archival documents.
Many other clubs, associations, societies and organizations exist and have records that could be of interest. Take for example fraternal organizations such as the Elks, the Knights of Columbus, the Odd Fellows and the Masons; they all have information dating back to their inception. The Kiwanis, the Lions, and the Rotary clubs also have records. Some of the information may just be the member’s name and date he joined, but others may have much more detail such as date of birth, names of parents, spouse and children, education, occupation and religious backgrounds. And if you’re lucky, you may even find some pictures.
As you are looking though personal information or through last wills and testaments, make notes of any schools or educational institutions; you might be able to check the records of the schools in question. College and academic institutions will emphasize the educational side of your ancestors. Some universities have student records dating back to the late 1800s in North America, and in Britain and Europe to the 15th and 16th centuries.
Search out hospital archives where you think your ancestors were admitted. Personal medical information will probably not be released. As you are looking through publications about the history of the hospital or newsletters for the hospital or the department, you maybe be surprised to discover a donation made by your ancestor or in their name. Maybe a biography or picture will exist.
Mortuaries, Coroners, Orphanage and Prison Records
Mortuaries, coroners, orphanage and prison records will all provide some missing links.
Business and Professional Records
Business and professional organizations have also kept records and these should be searched. Question also the types of professions of years gone by. There were registers for all kinds of occupations; one register lists peddlers and hawkers from 1820 to 1838 and another lists prostitutes in 1863.
Business and employment records may also still exist. Did your family have an ancestor who had a particular trade? Children as young as 7 and 8 years old were often apprenticed to a specific trade. Orphans were often bound to someone so that they would learn a trade and not be a burden on society. Earlier we mentioned indentured servants; they often became apprenticed to the occupation of the person who paid for their voyage.
If you know which community your ancestors came from, check for surviving business records. Most businesses kept track of customers and services performed. Again this will give you insight into your ancestors’ lives.
If you find a hint that life insurance existed, check the records of the life insurance company. Because benefits were usually paid after the death of the insured, records were kept for many years and some never destroyed. Some still have original applications.
Morticians (undertakers) kept extremely complete records, so searching these records may be fruitful. If a mortician went out of business, his files were often transferred to the new company acquiring the assets. In smaller areas there may have only been one or two morticians. Check the National Directory of Morticians.
If your ancestor owned his own business, he probably purchased goods from suppliers who didn’t know him. Credit was common, but suppliers needed to know the worthiness of the business. The activities of your ancestor’s business may be listed in some form of a credit report.
Finally, many employee records still exist and could be used to gather more clues about your ancestors. Many large companies have survived many years, but it is possible to trace the merging of small businesses with larger ones. City and county directories are a very good source to begin researching the employee records.
The genealogical resources of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are the largest and most important collection available in the world. The main library is located in Salt Lake City, Utah and has branches worldwide. Locally they are known as FamilySearch Centers.
The Mormons’ interest in genealogy is directly related to their faith, which holds that families are sacred units linked together for all time and eternity, not just ‘til death do us part.’ This family link is not just between mothers and fathers and their children, but includes their ancestors and descendants also. Each Mormon is bound by faith to keep complete and accurate records of the immediate family, and to trace the direct line back as far as possible.
In the 1930s Mormons began recording and microfilming the records of governments, towns, cities, churches and private organizations from all over the world. They are active in most countries and these records are protected from the elements and natural disasters in deep vaults carved out of granite in a mountain near Salt Lake City.
This research material is not confined only to members of their faith, so we are thankful that the facilities are open to Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Naturally, the holdings of individual Family History Centers vary, but you can easily request information, and the resulting microfilms are sent to your local FamilySearch Center, which then makes them available.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice]offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website at http://www.genealogicalstudies.com. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.