Armchair Genealogy(Successful Long-Distance Genealogy Research) Don Rightmyer Editor, Kentucky Ancestors Second Saturday Family History-Workshop 12 June 2010 (Rescheduled from 9 January 2010 due to weather)
Why Armchair Genealogy? “I can’t get there from here.” Research location is too far away. It’s “that time of year.” Bad weather, too hot, too cold, major rockslide on interstate, etc. Physical limitations make it difficult to travel for research. Cost of travel is prohibitive. Lodging, meals, gas, competing family vacation plans, etc. -- or the research location is overseas.
Doing Research The ideal is “to go” – see the original documents, see the setting in which your ancestors were born, lived, worked, and died. Go and meet others who are doing genealogical research, and maybe even meet a distant cousin. Being there opens up options you may never know or guess from sitting at home. Materials you might never know of or have access to.
Use Every Method Available • Email • Look for THE most likely person to be responsible for distance research. • Drawback: Did your email request “get there” and did it get to the correct person? • Phone • Find out exactly who will help you. • “Are you the person who will be helping me?” • Write out what you need to request or ask about. • Write a letter (or fax your request) • Probably your last option. • Provide a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Be realistic on the size of envelope. • Drawback: address your envelope to the right office and person.
Realities to Understand The person who will do the long-distance search for you may change from one request to the next. Most people handling research requests are not doing only that job. They usually have other full-time responsibilities, too. Reference librarians normally help library customers, answer phone inquiries, assist with Internet users, and your genealogical request is what they do in between. People get pulled onto other temporary projects, get sick, go on vacation, retire, move to another job, get “down-sized” – in other words, they are not available 24/7.
Be Specific • Specify what you want the person you contact to find for you. • Don’t waste their time and yours having them send you something you already have. If they do, be considerate and don’t criticize. • Figure out what you already have and what you need. • Do not be afraid to specify exactly what you’re seeking. Particularly if this is for a lineage application, etc.
Don’t Overwhelm the Searcher • Provide a reasonable number of items you want the researcher to locate for you. • Obituary search, etc. • Make a reasonable request and then make additional requests if you have a lot of material to obtain. • Five individual obituaries covering a period of death years is a good start. If you request more, be prepared to wait longer. • Excessive number of items requested can really slow down getting the material you need.
Ask About Charges – First • Ask up front on first contact if there are charges. • Don’t assume that you’re getting service for free. If you don’t ask, don’t be surprised if you receive your material plus an invoice for copying, etc. • Personal experience: $10.00 minimum charge for a periodical article photocopy from a university library – over 25 years ago. Article was six pages – they had a $10.00 minimum fee. • Basic fee may provide a specific number of copies – anything more cost extra.
Ask About Scanning Can you obtain scans of photographs and text materials? Scans of photos and documents helps with possible article publication and placement in any published family history. Specify if you want a color scan or a black/white. Don’t leave it to a guess on the part of the person helping you. Specify approximate dpi (scan quality) you need, especially if you plan to have it used in a published work, article or book.
Do Not Wait Forever Be patient, but do not wait forever to get a response back from the research organization you have contacted. Research requests can get lost on an employee’s desk. Envelopes and letters can fail to show up in their mail. Your timing can be “bad” and a large number of requests come on the same day. You may be on the bottom of the stack. Local genealogical and historical groups generally have part-time support so mail is not checked every day.
What Can You Get from Your Armchair? • Unpublished manuscripts – challenging but can be done. • Photographs – prints or scanned images • Maps • Family histories • Surname files • County histories • Historical publications • Local contacts • Birth certificates, death certificates, etc. • Newspaper articles, photos • Excerpts from books, articles, and monographs
Consider a Donation For Services Requested First, determine if there is a charge of any kind for what you are trying to obtain. Photocopy cost per page Mailing cost Periodical photocopy – is there a standard “minimum charge”? If there is no charge involved, consider making a donation to the organization that has helped you. A donation to the organization for their continuing genealogical research work will enhance your ability to get good service, and help others in the future. Make a check out to the organization, not the person helping you.
If You Need to Go Yourself Check to make sure the research facility will be open on the day and time you plan to make your trip, and can handle your research needs. Call before you go Recent bad weather in the area • (This happens more frequently than it should.) • Local plumbing/maintenance problems Possible local disaster – KDLA water leak Boyle County Public Library – major plumbing problem – cleanup need Lexington Public Library – Kentucky Room leak Staff training day Holiday
Success Stories By ILL: Local public library: ILL – Master’s Thesis on Bowling Green, Ky., during the Civil War Local public library -- Thomas Speed’s The Union Regiments of Kentucky By Mail: Original of Susan Hughes’ monograph on Camp Dick Robinson in the Civil War Web site/email: Copy of Fifty-Year History of the United States Air Force Academy Materials received far exceeded expectations.
Long-Distance Disappointments Research institution contacted does not have the materials you want. Scope and coverage of historical material received is not as comprehensive as you had hoped for.
Failures Numerous occasions on which a letter was never answered, etc. Emails were not received on the “addressee” end. Did not do my homework to find THE place where the documents/records are at. Failed to ask the question – “did not knock on the door.” Did not follow up with inquiries that did not produce answers in a reasonable period of time.
Resources for Long-Distance Research Genealogist’s Address Book (also on CD-ROM) (see bibliography for more resources) Genealogical Research/Historical Organization Web Pages Look for “Contact Us” Research Requests Staff Directory Genealogical/Historical Materials Index or Summary County Courthouse Book State Research Guide – for states you need information from
Presenter • Don Rightmyer • Editor, Kentucky Ancestors Kentucky Historical Society Frankfort, KY 40601 (502) 564-1792 Ext. 4435 email@example.com