Thanks to guest blogger and webinar speaker, Lisa Alzo, for the following article.
As a genealogist are you a creature of habit? When looking for ancestors do you tend to search only online? Do you visit the same databases over and over again, hoping to get that “magic” result? You know - the one with the special power to help you break down your research brick wall? Do you shy away from investigating an offline resource that’s tucked away in a courthouse basement, a library across the country, or foreign archive because it’s too time consuming, too expensive, or takes too long to obtain?
Sometimes we need to break out of the mindset of wanting our desired genealogical information to come easy. Let's face it, we’re all a bit spoiled by all of the great record images and indexes and other data available to us online, whether through free or subscription-based websites. But there is so much information we miss because it's not convenient or desirable to step away from our computers, tablets, and mobile devices.
Genealogists learn about conducting a “Reasonably Exhaustive Search” (one of the elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard), but sometimes we need a reminder. Think about the research you have done, and then consider those “hidden” or underused resources that you either haven't thought to look for, didn't know about, or dismiss because you prematurely assume your ancestors won't be found in them.
Here are three places where you may discover hidden information.
1. Personal and Family Documents. I know you’re probably thinking, “What more can I possibly find in home sources?” Or, perhaps, “But, I don’t have personal items that belonged to my ancestors.” You should review all the research materials you gathered, whether you inherited from your parents, grandparents, or other relatives, or whether you have had to get the information from public records. Have you missed any clues?
Have you considered the name of a witness on a marriage license or naturalization petition, or the names of the godparents on a baptismal record, and how these individuals were connected to the ancestor you’re researching?
Check through the ephemera too, and ask all of your relatives to check through their attics, basements, closets, and storage units.
For example, I have an international money order receipt found by my cousin that documents my paternal grandfather sent money back to his parents in Slovakia so his family could purchase land (some of the land is still owned by relatives today). This piece of paper includes my great-grandmother’s maiden name! In addition to this gem, I have church lodge paperwork listing my grandparents as officers, many historic postcards from the towns where my ancestors lived, my mother’s bridal book, and my father’s navy diary, among other keepsakes—all contain clues I have used in my research.
2. A Different Database. Do you routinely search just Ancestry.com, or FamilySearch? Consider typing your ancestor’s name into a search field of a database you might not normally check, such as the United States National Archives and Records Administration’s Access to Archival Database sets (free to search), or doing a search on Mocavo. For example, I’ve known about subscription site FindMyPast for years, but because I don't have English, Irish, or Welsh ancestors (my ancestral villages are in Slovakia) I never bothered to search the site. Recently, I decided to run a search for some surnames in FindMyPast. Imagine my surprise when I found the surname in Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, some Birth, Marriage, Death (BMD) indexes, and even a small story in one of the British newspapers about a coroner’s request into a death of an infant who had this surname. This search has provided many leads for me to follow for more information.
3. Town or County History Books. Have you checked ALL of the town and county resources in the area(s) where your ancestors lived? Many genealogists use Google Books to find these books, such as the one shown at right (History of Pittsburgh and environs).
But, countless more can be found in public, college, and university libraries around the world. Don't brush these resources aside just because you can't search them online, or because it’s not convenient or easy. Can't get there? Start by contacting the library—most will have a website, or pick up the telephone or e-mail them. If the staff will not do lookups (some will for a fee), ask for a contact at the local genealogical and historical society, and then ask that person for recommendations for a local researcher you could hire, or use a professional researcher. For recommendations, check Cyndi’s List—Professionals, Volunteers & Other Research Services, or the Association for Professional Genealogists. Reach out to your social networks, perhaps you can find someone who is willing to help (just remember to pay it forward and offer to help someone else who may need information that you can get or provide).
Don't forget the Local Histories section of Legacy Family Tree's Research Guidance. It contains the most comprehensive listing of available local and county histories for the United States. In Research Guidance, click on the Preliminary Survey tab, then click on the Local Histories tab. Legacy will display all known books for just the locations where your ancestor lived.
Also check out our brand new Legacy QuickGuide: Researching County Histories.
You can learn more about these and other underused resources in my upcoming Legacy webinar on “Ten Hidden Resources Every Genealogist Should Know” on Wednesday, May 22, 1013. Click here to reserve your space now!