Where are those final pieces of information that offer the data, help form conclusions, and flesh out the stories in your family? There is more to data than census and church records, but where are they? How do I find them without breaking the bank account?
“An impressive amount of state historical books and records are available on free, state-funded websites; however, such sites, often with hundreds of different sources, can be hard to find and complex to use. Usually unknown and therefore overlooked by researchers, these state-supported sites are hidden gems; gold mines of ancestral information waiting to be discovered and used. They are free and paid for by tax dollars; it’s time we make more people aware of these valuable resources,” says Kory L. Meyerink, co-founder and senior genealogist and research manager at AncestryProGenealogists, and founder of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy at RootsTech 2016 on Thursday.
Among state, local and municipal records are probates, land deeds, censuses and reconstructions, naturalization records, histories, marriage records, biographies, newspapers, letters, probate records, military records and sometimes surprises like yearbooks and photos. Click into by various websites for a wide array of information.
Each state has useful records tucked away – the challenge is finding them. Possibilities include state agencies with websites. For example researchers might find websites hosted by state archives, libraries (including presidential libraries), historical societies, departments of health, genealogical societies, and the Secretary of State. Universities can be important because many states place their archival collections in a university’s care.
Unfortunately, each state, municipality, and even each organization has its own system of record collection and preservation. There is nothing consistent between them. Worse, yet, some of the sites are not very “user friendly.” “It can be difficult to drill down to find what you need to know. Consider the purpose for the website’s existence. The designer would be working under the parameters that the host is seeking using his or her own touches. “Typically the designer is internet fluent and may work under the mistaken impression that users are too,” Meyerink says.
“Most people do research in a handful of states. Get to know the states you research and where those sources are.”
A preview before the deep search gives clues to its resource value. Pages may discuss the nature of the records and their location rather than providing information. Check for completeness of information, the existence of search boxes or indexes, and general content. Find useful pages by looking for terms like “databases” or “online/digital collections.
“Learn to dig down through the websites,” Meyerink says for information or links to other sites with information. Check back periodically to see if more information has been added.
For more information, and links to suggested sources find the syllabus for class number RT2113 at www.rootstech.org.
This article is a recap of a RootsTech 2016 presentation.