Monday, June 9, 2014

Methodology Monday: Genealogy in bulk? Twelve suggestions

When I have a choice, I prefer to work on one genealogy problem at a time. But there are other times -- such as when the task becomes identifying and documenting all descendants and spouses in three of four generations.

And in order to meet standards, we have to find the people first. Most of the following items work better when working on people who lived on both sides of the Dark Age in the US (that is, before and after 1850). Deep in the Dark Age or well up into the 20th century would be another post, actually several different posts depending on the location.

* When possible, do the work in a good library or archive where it's easy to switch from on line to on paper. Some on-line materials are hard to navigate, and some on-line providers omit crucial material like prefaces and introductions where authors and compilers tell something (intentionally or otherwise) about how they did their work. For me that place is in  Fort Wayne. More info here.  One practical reason to make it the HQ-away-from-home for this work is that it has the world's best collection of genealogical periodicals, indexed on PERSI. Get the basic info from Find My Past and then get the relevant call numbers from the online catalog.

* If this is a perennial project, check the old folders, binders, emails, and notes created long ago and scattered on various web sites or cloud locations for clues that may mean more now than they did at the time.

* Use property and probate records if they are within reasonable driving distance, or if they have been digitized. (Not using property records could land you in trouble. Using probate records will not be the death of you.)

* Don't start by searching broadly. Approximate a birth/marriage/death date and place and look for candidate parents/spouses/children then and there. Check metasites for digital newspaper availability.

* If you have a region or state, search broadly within those confines, for instance New England. Peruse Michael Hait's inevitably incomplete Online State Resources for Genealogy 3.0.

* Ancestry and FamilySearch have some of the same data, but their indexes are not interchangeable. Search both. If you have candidate parents, search Family Search's main site using only their names in the parent boxes.

* Google Books and Internet Archive often harbor old periodicals as well as old genealogy books. A lot of microfilms have been digitized and uploaded to Internet Archive as well.

* Less famous venues can be useful when searching broadly, such as the GLO site for federal-land states. While we're waiting for the master newspaper site to emerge, give a try to the larger collections of on-line city directories on Fold3 and Ancestry as well as local providers. For tips see this metadirectory. (But as you close in on the person, the ability to survey every year of a given city's directory becomes crucial.)

* Find A Grave is the best, but it is not the only cemetery site. Also, it contains random unsourced assertions about unpictured grave markers. Which brings me to . . .

* Don't be a source snob. Put on your hazmat suit and acid-resistant gloves, or whatever you think you need, and dive into genealogical dumpsters. Source-free clues appearing there may be verifiable elsewhere -- or at least may lead back to a contemporary document of some kind.

* Use ArchiveGrid within reason, especially if your target people had literate and gossipy neighbors, or belonged to record-creating institutions or societies.

* Don't forget to write it up! Local, state, or national, genealogy editors everywhere are waiting for you.

Enjoy the bulk-genealogy chase. In my experience, it is likely to provide both surprises and -- a bouquet of interesting problems, each of which will require up-close and personal work to solve.

Photo credit: per Creative Commons

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday: Genealogy in bulk? Twelve suggestions," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 June 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Diana Ritchie said...

Love the part about not being a "source snob"!! As you say, many of these unsourced items are great CLUES that can lead to wonderful things. I've found a number of things like that on both Find-A-Grave and Ancestry.