The Blog

Using Family History Centers

One of the things the LDS Church (Mormon) is often known for is the strong interest in genealogy.  The Church’s contributions to the preservation of innumerable historical documents has helped the genealogical community for decades.  I am often surprised, then, when I talk to baby genealogists who have never stepped into an LDS Family History Center (FHC).  If you have not visited your local center, let me give you a few reasons to make a visit a priority in your search for your ancestral kin…

1.  A Wealth of Microfilms.  Some of the first preservation of records across the world was conducted by LDS genealogists under the original direction of the Genealogical Society of Utah.  They photographed old court records, church books, and more onto microfilm.  FamilySearch, a non-profit arm of the LDS church maintains these records on and offline.  They now work at an astounding rate to digitize and index these microfilms and make them available online.  Using FamilySearch online will be our next post.  Not all microfilms are online, but are still available to order and have sent to your local FHC to be read on a microfilm reader.  Many FHCs even have microfilm readers that will digitize your selected pages from the film to print or download onto a flashdrive.  Check the catalog for records you may need from the location your ancestors came.  Clicking on a film number will take you to an online ordering system.  Select the FHC you wish the film to arrive at, pay online using your credit card or PayPal, and you will receive emails notifying you of the status of your order.  Films generally cost $7.50 for postage and handling, and are available to be viewed at your local FHC for 6-8 weeks, depending on your location.  You can pay more to extend that time.  For me, ordering a $7.50 film from an out-of-state courthouse is worth the price.

2.  Resources galore at the library.  There are two types of libraries available from FamilySearch: the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake and smaller local libraries known as Family History Centers, often located in part of an LDS meetinghouse.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, is considered by many a genealogical mecca.  People travel there from all over, individually and in special groups, to have the opportunity to view all the films, books and indexes, and special collections, most of which are on site or can be ordered within a day or so.  One popular group research trip is organized by the National Genealogical Society twice a year. Free classes are available onsite at the FHL, separate from these group trips. There is still much available in your local FHC as well.  General how-to books, maps, magazines, and indexes featuring local history are available to patrons to view within each FHC.  Each FHC has an unique collection, depending on contributions or local needs.  There is an easy-to-use FHC finder on the FamilySearch website to direct you to the one closest to you.

3.  Helpful Volunteers.  While you cannot reasonably expect to find an expert on your particular genealogical conundrum at each local FHC, what you will find are people who are dedicated volunteers willing to help the best they can.  They can help familiarize you with the center, its holdings and hours, and the websites available for free online when you visit.  You don’t have to be a member of the LDS Church to volunteer yourself, you might consider donating a few hours a month to help out there too; ask the local FHC Director for more information.

4.  Online Access to Premium Sites.  Many premium online genealogy websites have generously donated access to their collections if you are using computers at the FHC and at the FHL.  Sites such as Ancestry.com, fold3, WorldVitalRecords.com, HistoricMapWorks, and NewspaperArchive.com are just some of the collections you can peruse while you visit.  The bonus is that those helpful volunteers often have experience with these sites and can assist you in person to familiarize yourself with those online collections.

5.  Best of all, its FREE!  People are always welcome in the Family History Centers, free of charge.  You need not expect proselytizing about the LDS church, the goal in the FHCs is to help you with your family history.  The only charges you might see are for the films, and those are generously low.  Now even copies are no charge in many local FHCs.

Perhaps a quote from Maya Angelou is appropriate here.  She said:

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.” 

Perhaps the Family History Library and local Family History Centers are some of those tangible houses of history filled with valuable resources to genealogists of all levels. Visit one today and let us know of your experiences there! 

 

New Year, Old Genealogical Problems

If you use the New Year to reinvigorate your genealogical research, how long does it take before you are throwing your hands up in frustration all over again?  Six months?  One month?  A week and a half?  You are not alone.  This year, let’s see if we can look at the old genealogical brick wall with new eyes using a few tricks:

  1. Research Log Re-boot:  If you don’t have a research log, you may end up repeating research or (worse!) missing clues that you need.  Take everything you know about the ancestor and create a research log with it.  Yes, this will take some time, but it is a critical part of re-assessing your research.  If you already have a research log, or are about to create one, try this idea:  Instead of putting your research in the order in which it was undertaken, put each item of found or attempted research into a category, such as probate, vital records, land records, census, military, family stories and bibles, etc.  Do you notice any record groups you have ignored?  You may have focused more on censuses and military records, and completely missed land records!
  2. New or Updated Websites:  You have some favorite go-to websites, we all do.  How about checking someplace that you haven’t before, haven’t checked in a while, or did not think may apply.  Genealogical websites are constantly updating their holdings.  Try a new newspaper website like Genealogybank.com (fee-based), NewspaperArchive (fee-based, available free at any LDS Family History Center), The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America page, or any local historic newspaper available through your public library’s website.  I was astounded at the amount of new digitized records available at FamilySearch, and solved a client’s research problem right from my home computer with the probate and land records available there.
  3. Learn Some History.  Perhaps part of your research problem is perspective.  What happened in your ancestor’s area during their life that may have affected the records they would have made?  Was a battle fought then?  Did county lines change?  Were they part of the religious reformation of the early 1800s?  A client recently spoke bitterly about a 3rd great-grandfather who abandoned his family.  As we looked at the timeline, I asked if the grand-father had served in the Civil War, and on which side.  The client had not thought about it before.  As it turns out, the ancestral family lived in a part of Virginia severely hit by the tragedies of War, and the grandfather was a young Confederate veteran.  We talked about the possibility of undiagnosed post-traumatic stress for both spouses.  We may never know exactly what caused their split, but knowing these little bits of history puts the family into a different light.
  4. Internet-heavy Research: The Microwave vs. the Stove.  As researchers, we are so very spoiled (no, I am not complaining).  So much is online at our fingertips.  However, relying too heavily on sources found online can blind us to records that are only available in State Archives, local historical societies, and local courthouses, etc.  Here’s my analogy for this problem:  In my kitchen I have both a stove with an oven and a microwave.  As you can imagine, I use both in almost all of my cooking.  I love my microwave because it is fast and easy, however I just can’t cook everything in it.  Sauces, eggs, pies, cookies, and sauteed vegetables just don’t quite work if I use the microwave to cook them.  I have to use the stove for some things.  Other things I really prefer using the microwave for.  In all my cooking, I use both of these tools.  In research, your microwave is like internet research: fast and relatively easy.  Your oven is more like on-site research or records your order through the mail; it will take longer, but the benefits are undeniable.  Use both your tools, and learn the benefits and limitations of each.
  5. Investigate the Neighbors.  If you are stuck, try a completely different approach: Neighbors and extended relatives.  Put down your research for that elusive ancestor and start up a new project for a neighbor of the ancestor or a relative (or presumed relative) in the area.  You may end up seeing their paths cross with the ancestor you’ve been working on and give you a new clue for your mystery man.  A great tool for this is Elizabeth Shown Mills’ new quick-sheet, The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research.

Hopefully I have given you some ideas.  The main point is not to give up.  Remember that even if you haven’t found that elusive ancestor, you have gained experience and education, and your time is not wasted.  Tell us some ideas that you have used to re-invigorate your research, we’d love to hear!

Happy Hunting!

What does Samuel Pepys’ diary mean to you?

Samuel Pepys (pronounced ‘Peeps’) was born in London, England on February 23, 1633. Samuel was the fifth in line of eleven children. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1654 and married his wife, Elizabeth St. Michel in 1655. He later became Secretary to the Naval Board, a member of Parliament, and as was written of him, ‘master of an elegant household, owner of a coach and pair of black horses; a man rich enough to retire and live with comfort, if not in abundance.’

However, what probably has brought Samuel Pepys the most fame and renown is his personal diary. His diary shows his gusto for life. His interest in recounting his daily activities and very private observations comes through in this diarty.  He speaks of his work in Parliament, of counting his many pieces of gold, of lusting after certain women (particularly those of “low virtue”),  and not surprisingly, of squabbling with his jealous wife.

Pepys began his diary at the age of 26 in 1659, and concluded it on May 31, 1669 when he feared eyestrain might lead to blindness. Pepys’ daily diary entries have intrigued and educated people over the centuries. They have also provided insight on 17th Century English life, from the royalty to the mundane.

In 1665, Pepys records burying in his garden a piece of Parmesan cheese and a bottle of fine wine, in the hopes that they would both survive the Great Fire of London.  One wonders what happened to them, and if he considered burying his precious diary as well.

Pepys also writes of experiencing tremendous pain due to a kidney stone. Despite being left sterile by the surgery, he survived.  Pepys proudly kept his recovered kidney stone in a felt lined box, and was happy to show it to anyone who wanted to see it. He also covers more “highbrow” topics including the entertaining lives and public deaths of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.

To bring this to a close, please give a little thought to this idea: think if you were related to Samuel Pepys.  Imagine all of the insight you would have into your ancestor’s life, his character, and his curious personality.

Okay, so maybe you aren’t related to Samuel Pepys. However, it’s not too late to preserve your own remarkable story so that your descendents will know about you. What have you buried in your backyard, or your heart, that may intrigue descendents hundreds of years from now? What observations do you have on the current political or social environment?  Nothing is too mundane. Just start writing; your children’s children will be happy you did.