Genealogy Literacy: An Important Concept for Today's Researchers
Just what is "Genealogy Literacy" anyway? Literacy, and its basic components of reading and writing, was a simple term until our world changed with the evolution of technology. The flood of information that now overtakes us on a daily basis has to be navigated, processed, and communicated (or discarded) as a part of the information literacy filter we develop into skill sets for the 21st century. Even as early as 1974, the term "Information Literacy" was coined to describe the goal of a new type of learner. One that would strive to develop “techniques and skills for utilizing the wide range of information tools as well as primary sources in molding information solutions to their problems.”(Zurkowski, 1974) Never has this skill set development been more crucial. Regardless of whether we are reading another Facebook post or researching backwards through time, our Information Literacy skills must naturally be applied to any subject we encounter. Genealogy is no exception. Indeed, building your genealogy research skills around common Information Literacy standards can streamline your entire process. In a way, developing Genealogy Literacy skills can help you hack away the information weeds and set you on a path to producing solid trees that will stand the test of time, or any intense scrutiny.
To Learn More...
This site is dedicated to developing your Genealogy Literacy skills. A place for genealogists/family historians and genealogy librarians to learn more about the complexity of genealogical research. Genealogy Literacy is achieved through intentional and thorough analysis of sources, bias, contextualization, followed by the production of a thoroughly sourced product that shares the information gleaned from the process. To explore this topic further, I encourage you read the "Welcome" post, as well as the "About Me" page listed in the top menu. Also, keep checking back to read the latest posts about the skills and issues you care about the most.
Now: Let's have some genealogy fun between the stacks!
Question: One of our academic researchers was following the life of a single African American woman in the late 19th century. As she turned to City Directories to track residences over the years, she posed a question to us regarding the creation of these directories. She wanted to know who was included in these yearly guides. Obviously, not an entire household, but not always the head of household either. Was everyone included in a City Directory or did you have to pay to be listed? After all, these were valuable resources for advertising your business during that time.
What a great question! As many as I had used over the years, I really hadn’t closely examined the creation of these resources. The impression I had of City Directories came from the gaudy fonts and large advertisements speckled throughout each volume. I suspected that inclusion was fee based, but I didn’t know that for sure. I was just happy that they listed some of my ancestors (sometimes with spouse), their occupations, and addresses over the years. Little did I know about the process of gathering these names.
As I started digging for more information, I noted that most of our directories, regardless of year were produced by outside companies – not city, state, or federal government entities – nothing official – very much like today’s phone books.
Throughout the many decades of their publication, advertisements can be found each year in the local newspapers, announcing the availability of a new City Directory – obviously offering said directory for sale, or better yet, offering subscriptions to the yearly updates. The popularity of these directories also drove sales for large advertisements within them – a pretty lucrative endeavor for the publishers!
But then I stumbled upon an amazing article published in the Louisville Courier Journal in 1888: Looking for Names – The Experience of a Canvasser for the City Directory.
This long article detailed the yearly process: from hiring the canvassers, to the questions they ask, to the people they seek for information…despite the horrible prejudices exhibited in this article (many racially disturbing descriptions) we can learn a lot from the description of the canvassing process.
From this article we learn:
- Canvassers were hired to begin work in the fall of each year.
- Each large city required a canvassing force that was 25-30 men strong – a hard choice as the applicant numbers ran into the 250-300 range!
- Obviously, the ideal candidates possessed advanced reading and writing skills (according to the article).
- Instead of a large book of sheets like the census enumerator might have carried, the City Directory canvassers carried around strips of paper to gather the information on each person employed in any type of occupation. One strip of paper for each person.
- Everyone working an occupation was included in the City Directory – as long as they could be found and counted by a Canvasser. All occupations were sought, both legal and illegal, according to the article (“opium joints” and “gambling rooms”) – how they labeled illegal occupations is beyond me – but it makes me want to take a closer look at the types of occupations listed.
- Money was NOT a part of the inclusion process, unless a business owner decided to purchase a prominent advertisement (or large/bold font) in the Directory.
- Canvassing took place from around 7am to 6pm.
- Much like the census taking process, the city was divided into districts and assigned to individual Canvassers.
- If a Canvasser was good at his job, he might be employed throughout the year to assist with the production of the Directory, through the publishing process – but for the most part, canvassing work was grueling with low pay, resulting in heavy turnover each year.
- Sometimes, our ancestors did not want to be recorded – as it is noted in this article, those who were running from creditors, or the law, or involved in illegal activities might give an alias – just our research luck!
- Confusion was rampant throughout the canvassing process – heavy accents and ethnically diverse names meant misspelled or phonetically butchered entries. As large cities were immigration hubs, many of our immigrant ancestors might have been overlooked by the Canvasser – or they may be there – just be sure to look for any possible pronunciation.
- The African American community was represented in an anecdotal story that demonstrates the precarious relationship between anyone of authority and this population group. The Canvasser complained that they were perceived as government officials and, therefore, false or reverse names were given with each subsequent year. The example given was “Andrew Jackson” given one year and “Jackson Andrew” given the next year. It was even noted that they suspected it was a list being compiled for police use.
- The Canvassers also complained that many women were not included in the Directory because many believed women performing any occupation was a sign of low class status – resulting in a refusal to admit any occupation at all – regardless of the report of neighbors.
One of my favorite stories from this article came from a household of just women: a single mother/widow – who happened to be a business owner. The household was wealthy enough to employ servants – thereby creating a brief period of confusion. The woman’s young adult daughters were of no occupation, and spent their days at home attended by the servants. The Canvasser arrived and asked about the head of the household and her occupation/business, and then asked about other residents in the home – inquiring about their profession. After first denying their mother’s occupation, the young women thought the City Directory was something of importance at first, and pressed the man to include their names. When they realized that he kept focusing on occupations they became even more offended, declaring that they were NOT of any occupation! The Canvasser then focused on their servants to add to the Directory – which offended the girls even more – apparently, their mother was a large purchaser in the southern region, but the fact had been hidden from their neighbors and social circle as this was considered to be a low class activity. Due to his experience that day, the Canvasser changed his entry for the mother to list “purchasing agent” as a matter of revenge.
After reading this article and its portrayal of the difficulties of canvassing, I can safely say, count yourself fortunate if your ancestor was listed in a City Directory. But also, much like the tax lists, it’s important to look through many consistent years of Directories – simply because our ancestors were mobile, and maybe away visiting with family to miss the Canvasser – present five years, missing for two, and then back again. Plus, note if your ancestor was a day laborer, or first generation immigrant, or one of the many disenfranchised classes of the time. For all of these groups, they may have been excluded from the City Directories, or merely listed with altered names – just because the Directories are typed, doesn’t mean the errors are any less extreme than the errors we are used to seeing in the census records. Understanding the context of your family’s place in history, and their social/racial/cultural challenges can help with your research and analysis strategies!
Happy researching! Cheri Daniels, MSLS Your Genealogy Librarian
It’s quite a mouthful: Interlibrary Loan. But it would be wise to remember this phrase as it could be your new best friend!
Depending on your local public library, Interlibrary Loan (ILL – sometimes known as Resource Sharing) may be a service that is promoted, simply extant, hidden, or not available – you may need to read the services fine print to learn about your library’s ILL offerings.
Most public libraries are eager to borrow the items you need for research, when feasible. However, the research needs of the genealogist can be challenging for Interlibrary Loan services. Let’s explore the obstacles, tips and tricks of this underused, and often misunderstood service.
What IS Interlibrary Loan?
In a nutshell, this is a networked loan program between libraries, allowing patrons to borrow from outside collections. Most of these libraries are connected electronically through their membership in OCLC: Online Computer Library Center – which also happens to run WorldCat, the world’s largest library catalog.
Tip #1: Remember these terms: Borrower and Lender. They are exactly as they sound, but the Borrower is not you – you are the patron or customer and the library borrowing on your behalf is the Borrower. The lending library is the Lender. Contrary to perceptions, the ILL transaction is a contract between the two libraries – NOT between the patron and the lending library. This way, both parties agree to certain standards during the transaction, even if things get damaged or lost in the mail, there is already a protocol in place to resolve the situation.
Through OCLC, each library will request materials on your behalf via the ILL software of their choice that will talk to OCLC, asking if the lending library is willing to lend an item. Each loan is considered based on a few questions:
- Is the item available for loan? (Many items do not circulate due to various factors: Is it currently checked out to someone else? – Is it rare or archival, and does not circulate?)
- Can they supply the item within a few days? (4 days is the standard turn around time)
- Does the library charge a fee to loan?
- Are there special use restrictions?
- Is the item an article? – Articles are also available through this type of service.
Tip #2: You can be proactive in determining the likelihood of your ILL success. When using WorldCat to look for your needed title or article, you can make note of a couple of things for your librarian: The OCLC number, which can be found in the details section of the book record in OCLC – this will ensure that they borrow the exact edition you have found. Also, read the fine print: Is this an e-book edition, or an archival item? (Look for a print edition of your needed title as these are best for ILL – except in cases of e-resource agreements between certain libraries) Neither may be able to be borrowed, but if you are desperate, you can discuss photocopy options with your librarian.
What does ILL cost?
This program may be free for you, but depending on the location of the needed item, you may incur some fees. Many libraries belong to nearby or specialty networks that agree to free loans under reciprocal agreements. Sometimes, articles are included, but sometimes they are only supplied for a fee. So, be prepared for a fee structure running from free to about $20.00 per transaction.
Tip #3: Ask about ILL fees prior to submitting a request. For some libraries, they have decided to offer ILL services at no cost to the patron. Others provide this service for free IF they can borrow from a free lender. If they can only find your item through a fee-based lender, they may pass the charge on to you – it is safer to ask about their fee policies prior to submitting an order.
Let’s Talk Genealogy Materials
This is the bad news about ILL. We genealogists are usually on the hunt for obscure material. What exactly falls under the term “obscure”? Microfilm, family histories, local histories, archival/manuscripts or rare books. These items have a high chance of falling under “restricted” material.
“So, what is the point of this post, if I can’t borrow genealogical material?”
You can – but not always. This is just a word of caution to be realistic in your expectations.
Access versus Preservation:
While libraries are in the information providing business, many of them are also in the preservation business. Your natural inclination may be to argue that since you can’t get this information elsewhere, they should be willing to provide it. (Trust me, I’ve heard this argument more times than I care to count.) But think about it, if there is only one or two copies in existence, why endanger the item by placing it in a mail service where it could get lost? – As in, FOREVER, so that no one sees it ever again! Depending on the number of copies available worldwide, preservation can sometimes outweigh access – just be prepared for that scenario.
Tip #4: What to do if your material falls under this category? 1. Look for a copy to purchase online, through Amazon, Ebay, or the librarian’s friend: Bookfinder.com. 2. Look at the description of the book, is it small or really large? Does it have an index so that you can request look-ups or copies of certain pages? If archival, does it have a Finding Aid to help you identify the portions you would like photocopied? Many libraries are willing to copy portions of restricted material, because, after all, they still enjoy providing access to information. 3. Look at the publication year, is it old enough to be in the public domain and may have been digitized in its entirety through Google Books or the Internet Archive? Many of the older family and local histories are available for free download through these sites. Also, don’t forget to try the books section of FamilySearch.
The above section was only meant as a caution – not to discourage. Regardless of what you find, ILL is a program in place to help patrons get the information they need – so use it! One of the really great uses for ILL is genealogy education and historical context study. Did you see a great new genealogy or history title out there that you’d like to use, but it’s just too expensive? Try ILL – the more recent titles (even recent local histories), owned by multiple libraries, have a high chance of being loaned out.
Tip #5: If you borrow a book through ILL, READ IT – and do not dawdle! ILL books will usually arrive with a generous loan period of around a month, but many do not allow renewals. So, get cracking on that title once it comes in!
The Gems in Those Smaller Libraries
OK, I’m talking very small libraries. The ones so small that they do not pay for membership in OCLC. Since your method of requesting material began with a WorldCat search, just remember that not every library can afford membership in this service. If you find out that a smaller non-OCLC library owns the title you need, you can still ask your librarian about ILL. There is a paper form that can be used between the libraries for these types of transactions.
Tip #6: So, you can’t find the title you need in WorldCat. Look at the title from a regional eye. Where was it published, and where is the subject material from? Then canvas the local area for smaller libraries and archives – they may have their own catalog – or, give them a call. You might be surprised at the number of small libraries “off the grid” that house those obscure titles and archives.
What About Historical Societies?
As a state historical society library, our catalog is connected to OCLC. However, it was only recently that we began loaning our books. As a new option for access, we decided to loan out duplicate material, or material small enough that we could create a circulating copy. Much of our library still does not circulate, but we have a lot of duplicate local/county/family histories that just might be the key to your research. As for other state historical societies, it depends. I’ve seen some connected to their local universities for the service, or some that just do not loan at all. In those cases, you are encouraged to call and discuss photocopy options.
Last Word About Microfilm:
As the Family Search microfilm lending program ended, we are resigned to waiting for digital copies of records. However, for many local newspapers, only a portion has been digitized through online databases. Multitudes await your use through the microfilm reader. Some libraries are great at lending these, but many are not. Different types of libraries, such as university libraries are much more eager to loan microfilm than public libraries – but don’t forget, all of these OCLC connected libraries loan to each other, regardless of library type – so, again, it’s well worth a try!
Happy researching! Cheri Daniels, MSLS Your Genealogy Librarian
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tea Party
As you may have read in my Preface page, I also blog about tea – usually focused on the equipage necessary to make tea over the centuries (I have a really bad teapot/tea cup addiction) – but often about the tableau settings that demonstrate how tea was presented on a social level. Just last year, I purchased a turn of the century photo that really resonated with me on multiple levels. Not only was this clearly a photo of a “Tea Party” in action, but it was also a southern photo with an uncomfortable tableau. While the tea equipage looked to be in order, large teapot with cups and saucers, the people in this scene presented a remnant tableau of the old south. Even though this was turn of the 20th century (confirmed around 1910) – the white ladies are being served tea by “Uncle” Jerry Steves – a scene reminiscent of southern enslavement. Despite poor Jerry’s continued servitude over 50 years after the end of slavery, the other women were also named on the back, which led to a much larger story – one slightly connected to Kentucky, and the horse racing industry.
Let’s start by analyzing the photo.
The front speaks for itself: Formally attired black ‘servant’ pouring tea for the well dressed white ladies, with two little girls sitting on the ground in front of them. One thing I find to be humorous is the outdoor setting – including: Fancy chairs and table with tasseled rug draping the top, complete with china tea service of some kind. Upon closer inspection, this is not a lush pastoral lawn scene with meadow and garden flowers – oh no – the tiny blades of grass are so sparse that this resembles a dirt side area, complete with chicken running around in the foreground! So, this appears to be somewhat of a faux tableau. Despite their efforts at refinery, it appears that they are having a tea party in a chicken yard – I understand that chickens often roamed around a farm, near the house, and I do see some very tiny blades of grass….but a far cry from their intended luxurious tea tableau.
The back of the photo says:
“The Tea Party. ‘Uncle’ Jerry Steves. Rhoda Moncure. Elizabeth Moncure. Jacqueline Moncure. Edith Moncure.”
Finding the Moncure family:
Luckily, this last name, with the family unit containing a Rhoda and Edith, I was able to track them down pretty quickly. In 1910, this household is living together, sans Jerry Steves (I’ll get to him in a second) – but with an additional male, Elizabeth’s son and Rhoda’s husband, Ambler Moncure.
Elizabeth is a widow by 1910, and if you look closely at the children’s ages, Edith is 10 and Elizabeth J. (very likely our Jacqueline) is 6. Does this match the ages of the girls in the photos? Pretty darn close, I’m going to guess more like 1911 or 1912. The hairstyle and dress was my first guess at a year, and I was spot on with census confirmation.
All members of this family were born in Virginia (except for Rhoda as later census records place her birth in Ohio), with this census being recorded in Dinwiddie County. The widowed matriarch, head of the household, Elizabeth is 73 years old.
Looking at Elizabeth alongside Jerry Steves, I guessed they were of similar age. Now, one thing to note right away: The Moncure household had an Irish laborer in the household, but Jerry Steves was nowhere to be seen. Several pages forward and backward did not yield any clues.
However, a black man named Jerry Stevens was found as a head of household in the same county, but different precinct. He is 74 years old, and living with his 39 year old wife, Pinky! What a hoot! Go, Jerry! Living next door but in the same unit number is a 50 year old widow, Bettie Brown, with her 25 year old single daughter Lizzie Brown, and three young grandchildren with the same last name. Is this Jerry’s daughter and her household? Quite possibly. Of course, they could be Pinky’s sister and family.
The most important part of this photo is the fact that this may be the only extant image of Jerry, who was more than likely a former slave as he was born in Virginia (according to this census) in the 1830s. Which is why, after this post, I’m going to contact a local or state archive to inquire about donating the photo. It looks pretty special to me.
Raceland, the Wynns and Moncures:
When looking up the Moncure family in Findagrave, I located a few right away in Dinwiddie County, buried in a family cemetery on a farm/plantation called “Raceland.” Not all of the Moncure family were buried here, but those who entered some of the individuals in Findagrave also posted some links to the other members of the family. This gave me enough of a lead to locate the other members of the Moncure family buried in another local cemetery.
Here’s where history got creepy really fast. With this connection to Raceland, I did a simple Google search for Moncure + Raceland + Virginia = and bingo, some really cool pieces popped up – including a blog post by a former KHS colleague, Tim Talbot, written THIS YEAR! Cue the Twilight Zone music, because I ain’t done yet!
Tim did a lovely job filling in the backstory about the Wynn family who owned Raceland more than likely prior to the turn of the 19th century. To quote the historical marker at this site – BTW, the house still exists – the land and dwellings were developed as early as 1750.
One of the earliest Wynn family members to own Raceland was William Wynn who was known for his horse racing acumen. According to Tim’s blog, William Wynn owned the racehorse, Timolean, who later sired Boston, who was the sire of Lexington, the famed racehorse of Central Kentucky who became the patriarchal line of most modern thoroughbred pedigrees. I am even more familiar with this horse because of a family connection to a historic property we had been trying to save in Cynthiana, Kentucky – who would have thought that this one photo of a tea party would connect me back to the genealogy of a most famous Kentucky horse?! Huzzah!!
Some side notes:
Tim relates that the Wynn plantation was sold to the Moncure family (Marshall Moncure) in 1883, but what he probably did not realize is that Marshall’s wife was Elizabeth Wynn Moncure – so when it was sold to Marshall Moncure, it was staying in the family through Elizabeth.
A note about the enslaved groups on Raceland – Tim listed the number of slaves owned by the Wynn family over the decades – from 35, to 65, to around 38 near the Civil War. Which makes me think more and more about Jerry. With Elizabeth and Jerry so close in age and the label calling him “Uncle” Jerry, I’m going to make a leap and suggest that Jerry was probably owned by the Wynn family prior to the war, and therefore, probably from Raceland.
Of course, I can’t be 100% certain on this summation, simply because there are too many mixed up trees and reports out there regarding which Wynn owned which place – and which Wynn children belonged to which Wynn patriarch – you get the idea. We do know that Raceland was owned by William Wynn, owner of the horse mentioned above. We also know that this William did not stay there permanently, and moved to Arkansas to continue his horse racing endeavors. Somewhere in this timeframe, John Wynn became the new owner of Raceland. Tim reports that John was William’s son, which is possible, knowing the birthdate of William (1784) – but other family members out there are reporting that John was a son of Robert – I know nothing about Robert – and so I will leave the sorting out to the descendants.
It is clear, however, that John owned Raceland during the pre-War decades, at least according to the historical marker – but did he really? According to the 1860 census, John had no real estate value, although he listed $58,000+ in personal property – most likely a combo of livestock and slaves. Ten years earlier, in 1850, John lists 35 enslaved individuals in his slave schedule entry. But, going back to the 1860 census, a William G. Wynn was living next door to John and his family and listed $215,000 in real estate value along with $53,000+ in personal property. The William living next door was not John’s father as they are too close in age. So, who really owned Raceland? A question to be answered by another researcher.
I was curious as to the enslavement taking place between William G and John Wynn who lived next door to each other. Between the two of them (it should be noted that William also listed a group who had belonged to the estate of Mary Jones) there were 78 enslaved individuals. Drumroll please, did any of the black males in either slave schedule match the age Jerry would have been at the time? Sadly, nope. Jerry should have been 13 in 1850 and 23 in 1860, and the closest I could get in these households were 16 and 26, although, while there isn’t anything close in 1860, there is a 12 year old boy in John Wynn’s household in 1850.
So….why aren’t Jerry’s details matching up?
When reviewing the 1910 census, Jerry was living just two residences from Richard Wynn, who, according to the John Wynn household of 1860, was Elizabeth’s brother. The age in 1910 for that Richard is an exact match.
While it would be convenient to associate Jerry to Richard Wynn, Jerry threw us a huge curve ball:
According to the 1902 marriage of Jerry and Pinky, Jerry gives his name as Jerry Stephens – with a birth year of 1837 and his birthplace as Mississippi – NOT Virginia – even though his birthplace is listed as Virginia (as well as that of his parents) in the 1910 census. As a bonus, he gives the names of his parents: James and Esther Stephens. Pinky’s parents were also included: Abram and Charlotte Coles. Pinky, on the other hand, listed her birthplace as Dinwiddie County Virginia.
Was the photo taken at Raceland, the residence of the Moncure family? Despite Jerry’s residence elsewhere in the county, did he work there as a domestic – thereby explaining the common, yet pretentious endearment, “Uncle”? Did Jerry happen to work for Richard instead and perhaps the picture was taken at Richard’s house during a visit to Elizabeth’s brother? Pure speculation.
Does Jerry’s birthplace indicate that he had no pre-war connection to the Wynn family? Quite possibly. However, let us not forget that slave sales extended beyond borders, and Jerry’s presence could be a matter of pre-war sale happenstance. Also, remember, that the Wynn family relocated to Arkansas, and based on a couple of others buried at Raceland, the family members did travel back and forth between these states. Jerry could have been an acquisition during those years – OR – was he, instead, connected to the Moncure family?
This family also owned large plantations in Virgina, and Marshall Moncure’s parents both died in New Orleans (according to a couple of older local history books) – with the Louisiana and Missisisippi slave markets so entwined, we cannot rule out a Moncure relationship for Jerry. It should also be noted that Jacquelin’s name comes from the family name and plantation name associated with the Moncure ancestors – as their number of enslaved workforce had to be huge – they cannot be ruled out as a pre-war connection for Jerry.
It is tremendously sad that Jerry’s pre-war life is so shrouded in mystery – although, having the names of his parents might help those in further research. Jerry’s roots may be firmly entrenched in Mississippi, and he may only be connected to Dinwiddie County by his new wife. But, remember the Brown household living in the same unit as Jerry and Pinky? As a post script, the 1880 census listed another Brown household living between the households of Marshall Moncure and his brother Dr. James Moncure. Marshall was listed as a servant in the hospital, while his brother James was a doctor there. The black family living between them was the household of Martha Brown, listed as a cook. Does this give us a directional clue as to Jerry’s connection? Again, we cannot say for certain.
I’m hoping someone out there will recognize Jerry Stevens/Stephens and his family (Pinky, James, Esther) – regardless, hopefully, others can resume Jerry’s research after it arrives at a Virginia archive. Once it is placed, I will amend this post to report its final destination.
CHERI DANIELS, MSLS
THE GENEALOGY LIBRARIAN
One of the main draws we have in our library is a giant island of surname vertical files that includes many of those research bits and pieces left behind by previous visitors. Each time a person gets excited over this massive magpie collection, we urge caution. If it’s not sourced, be very careful how you record the information – please copy and place in standby until you can confirm the information in other documents.
However, there are some family group sheets that I treat with more respect than others.
Here are a few elements to look for when gauging the research value of a family group sheet:
- Does it include the name of the person who provided the information? If not – make a copy, and note where you found it – use for clues later down the road.
- Does it include any attached sources/citations? These could be on the back, or in the following pages, but if there are none to be seen, use the form as a breadcrumb only until confirming with documentary sources.
- What time period does the information cover? Does it detail the family group of the Duke of Royaltyland from the 12th century, sans sources? If so, disregard….back away slowly….this is genealogy sorcery of the worst kind.
- Level gold – does this sheet contain information that reaches into the 20th or 21st
centuries? I have learned to place more value on the family group sheets that provide information about contemporary ancestors/descendants. When the likelihood of personal knowledge on the part of the provider is high, I start to lean into the area of Family Bible Records. Just think – we all hold the family Bible record to a pretty high value. Some lineage societies love these and accept them readily as proof of birth or death – primarily because many of them cover a time frame when the recording of vital statistics was lacking on the official level. Plus, they too value contemporary information – in other words – a personal witness giving information.
- Caveat – regardless of the proximity of the information provider to the generation listed on the sheet, we can never rely on one document to prove relationships or reach a conclusion. This goes for anything we find as we build evidence, but these family group sheets may provide the only research directional clue you need to break through your brick wall.
- Last tip: With your own family group sheets – PLEASE include a note about the preparer or information provider with a date of completion! This can be a simple line at the top or bottom – remember, even with Family Bible Records, many lineage societies require the frontispiece of the Bible to prove publication date – thereby placing the origin of the information in a contemporary time period as it relates to the ancestor.
I am writing this post with gritted teeth and a fake smile upon my lips – retaining a professional demeanor in the face of such a dangerous fallacy can be almost impossible. But I promised you undiluted genealogy – and here comes test case number 1! Quick – go get a cup of tea before reading further!
Just this morning, on Facebook – the disseminator of both good and evil genealogy advice – a woman was asking for research location tips from her fellow genealogical researchers. As several gave her great insights, one person declared that:
“So many Kentucky records are online that it is rarely necessary to do onsite research anymore.”
She then proceeded to list about 3 wonderful online repositories….which was helpful, in a way….but with no cautionary caveats.
Two of the three online resources she shared should have come with cautions: The first one links to an aggregated collection of digitized items from around the state, including maps and newspapers – but what she doesn’t know, is that this site is in limbo, and most early participants no longer share digitization efforts on this site – most have created their own online portals for digitized records. The other site is a go-to for land records, and I recommend this one to researchers all the time – but caution that state budget cuts hit them hard, and digitization efforts had to stop short of the entire collection – some onsite visits would be necessary to access any records past a certain year.
Now, I understand that the standard researcher will not have knowledge of these limitations – but the overall impression of digitized record repositories containing complete collections, thereby eliminating a need for onsite research is FALSE!! FICTION!!! JUST PLAIN WRONG!! In fact, DANGEROUSLY WRONG!!
Why dangerous? Because the libraries and archives that contain our history operate on funding – local, state, or federal funding. What happens when the visitation numbers go down to a point that makes the keepers of the funds question their allocation that year? They cut, and they cut some more….and they hear local/national statements about everything being online, and they cut further…until access or existence is in extreme danger.
I was recently told a scary story (just in time for Halloween) about the construction of a new county courthouse – the locals in charge of building said courthouse, decided to opt for a closet sized research table to access records, because “No one conducts onsite research anymore – it’s all available on Ancestry!”
How do we stop this madness?
You MUST conduct your research using a tandem approach – and abandon the research vacuum of online only records!
1. PLEASE stop perpetuating the myth of online-only access. Just think about statistical probabilities alone – they are staggering. Since we’ve only been digitizing things for about the past 10-15 years (larger institutions), only a tiny portion has been digitized. And so many smaller institutions are not digitizing at all because of low staffing, technology and budget constraints. The libraries and archives of the world maintain huge collections of local records and family records – primary sources that can obliterate your brick wall! But if we encourage others to research in both places – online AND onsite, budgets grow, and online access continues to grow….otherwise, with the demise of research repositories because of a myth, we run the risk of endangering the existence of our history – and stopping the digitization efforts! Trust me, the digitization budgets are connected to the libraries and archives – you cannot have one without the other.
2. Run tandem research all the time – begin with online sources (images of primary sources hosted on main sites, such as Ancestry and Family Search) – noting the original location of these records. After building your research foundations with the wonderful digitized documents available to us, move to other online resources. Take a virtual tour of the libraries and archives of your state, region, and county of focus. Comb their websites and online catalogs to see what they have – look for several things: catalogs that list many of their items AND separate links that house archival finding aids or any digitization efforts they may be running. Remember: Even catalogs have limitations, and may not contain a list of EVERYTHING in their collection. Also, smaller county historical/genealogical societies may not have a website at all, or if they do, they may only list their location – not a list of what they have. Personal contact would be necessary in this instance.
3. Head out on the road! Now that you have a research plan as to the locations and collections you want to see, you will be much more successful in your results. Be ready to experience some amazing bonuses along the way! By visiting the area of your ancestral home, you will gain an understanding that is unparalleled. You see the geography, breathe the air, and talk with the people of your homeland. Contextual knowledge of your ancestral community is a vital part to understanding your ancestors. Plus, your visit, though a tad costly, helps maintain the existence of these storehouses of history and information.
In short – always think of research as a multi-dimensional process. We are fortunate enough to have wonderful records at the tip of our fingers via super digitization efforts of many – but our research should NEVER stop there! Our storehouses of history contain the family records we need: Bible records, genealogy research files, correspondence, diaries, photos, school and Church records, etc. A fundamental principle of the Genealogical Proof Standard is “conducting a reasonably exhaustive search” – NEWSFLASH – online only research is NEVER a reasonably exhaustive search!
Great, now I need another cup of tea – and it’s only Monday!
Cheri Daniels, MSLS
The Genealogy Librarian
As a genealogy librarian, I witness research efforts in their most raw and advanced forms on a daily basis. Additionally, the results spectrum is wide and fraught with frustration. There are so many times when I would love to offer lengthy advice on where to go next, or honestly, shake some folks out of their mental rut when it comes to genealogical pursuits. Alas, our interactions at the reference desk are brief due to limited time and staffing levels.
As a huge proponent for online educational opportunities, I decided to direct my efforts to this platform. Will my insights help anyone? Perhaps – hopefully. Even if it’s just one person, the effort is worth the end result. As stated on the Home page, and in my Preface page, my goal is to implement Information Literacy guidelines/goals into our teaching of genealogy research skills. Information Literacy instructs us to locate the information we are seeking by critically evaluating the available resources, and then disseminate the information located into a usable format – i.e. properly cited product for fellow or future researchers. The exact same formula applies to genealogical research – which will be our guiding force on this site.
In an effort to combat fictitious trees that are copied and spread like a virus, we must be ready to look at every source – regardless of age and previously attributed trust – to follow responsible best practices in research that produces trees with unshakable roots. This is not an easy commitment, but let’s face it, as genealogy grows in popularity, haphazard research and cloned tree armies with wrong information are becoming insurmountable forces. Solid research is in serious danger of being drowned out by these multiplying copies. I believe it’s not too late, or I wouldn’t be making this educational effort.
You can also think of this as a behind the scenes look at how libraries function, and what secrets they have to tell. From search strategies in the catalog, to archival navigation, the tips covered here will remove any hesitation you may have when entering a new library for research. You will grow in confidence and skill as we tackle the lesser known, and sometimes advanced, research strategies.
As a safe space of growth and learning, you are also encouraged to ask questions! Did you encounter something in the library that confused you? Why are certain policies in place, and what’s up with that catalog? Consider this a true confessions venue – I will answer inquiries with unabashed honesty, and a bit of fun.
This is a brief welcome only – to identify my direction here at Genealogy Literacy. However, for my fellow librarians out there, the full guide to Genealogy Literacy can be found as a chapter within a forthcoming book: Genealogy and Librarianship from McFarland Publishers in 2018. I’m afraid you’ll have to consult the book to learn about my GL reference strategies as this site will be more focused on individual advice for genealogical researchers.
So, without further adieu: Welcome, everyone!
Cheri Daniels, MSLS
The Genealogy Librarian