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Your research may be more rewarding and more effective if you can visit the library or archive and personally search the records. Examine the actual documents or exact microform copies when possible rather than abstracts.
Format and Equipment
Because genealogical records are available in a variety of formats (see Formats of Records), understanding those formats and the equipment necessary to use them will make you a more successful researcher. Microfilm or microfiche records can be viewed through special film or fiche readers available at most libraries. A librarian can show you how to use the machines.
When using a library catalog or records on computer or compact disc, follow the instruction manual and/or the instructions on the computer screen.
When using books, learn the cataloging and shelving system for that library so you can find books easily. Handle the books with care as many are old and in poor condition. Your consideration will be appreciated.
Actual documents may be difficult to use. There may be only one copy of a dirty, faded, or fragile record. Handle such records as little as possible. Skin oils can harm old documents. Turn pages or leaf through files slowly and carefully. Never write on or mark documents! Ask the archivist how to make copies.
Read and Interpret the Records
Each record may have peculiarities that make it difficult to read or to understand the meaning of the information.
Handwriting. To read handwritten records, you may need to understand the handwriting practices of the recorder. Many researchers have found that the best way to learn to read old handwriting is to learn to write in that style. You may want to study a book about handwriting, such as—
Kirkham, E. Kay. The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1973. (FHL book 973 G3k; fiche 6010036-37)
Terminology. Dictionaries can define unfamiliar words used in the records. Major libraries have comprehensive dictionaries that include archaic meanings and the origins of words. An excellent dictionary of genealogical terminology is—
Evans, Barbara Jean. The New A to Zax: A Comprehensive Genealogical Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians. 2nd ed. Champaign, Ill.: B. J. Evans, 1990. (FHL book 973 D26e)
Languages. Records from international countries and some from your own country may be written in foreign languages. While you do not need to speak a foreign language to do most research, you will need some understanding of the language and key genealogical words. Dictionaries that give definitions in your native language and a foreign language are available in most libraries and bookstores. Guide books that discuss reading foreign records are often listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [COUNTRY] – LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGES.
The Family History Library has published a series of genealogical word lists that give English meanings of about 900 key terms. Lists are available at the Library, its centers, and on the Internet for major languages including Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.
Formats of Records