Photo courtesy of the Texas State Genealogical Society
Welcome to Texas, y’all. We’ve cooked up a passel o’ goodies for you to chomp your teeth into. Nope, it’s not ribeye, it’s good ‘ol homegrown genealogical research resources, and Sue Kaufman, President of the Texas State Genealogical Society, is gonna tell all y’all ’bout them right this very minute.*
RC: What are the first steps a genealogist should take?
Kaufman: Start with yourself and ask the questions: Who, What, When, Where, and How? Identify Who it is you specifically want to research. What do you want to find out about this person? When did this person live, and Where did they live? How and where will you find information on this person?
Fill out family group sheets and a pedigree chart, which is often referred to today as a family tree – they’re the same thing. The pedigree is your ancestral “map.” The holes become your area of research.
Do your homework. Take the time to read about how genealogy research is done by master genealogists, such as The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy (edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, Ancestry Publishing; 2006; third edition) and A Researchers Guide to American Genealogy (Val Greenwood; Genealogical Publishing Company; Baltimore, MD; 2000) among others.
For further lists see: Check out the Getting Started in Genealogy website, or enter “beginning genealogy reading list” in Google.
Genealogy research is not done in a vacuum; talk to other lineage researchers for suggestions and research tips. Join a lineage research society. Some of the genealogy websites offer podcasts; RecordClick has an informative blog site with helpful resource research advice; Ancestry.com has a learning center; FamilySearch.org offers free online learning classes and a wiki. Take advantage of what your local libraries offer in the way of workshops and seminars.
The Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston offers workshops and seminars that teach researchers how to maneuver through websites and book stacks; it offers library orientations, including the use of library catalogues; and it conducts education sessions each month on variant topics, and information about conferences and workshops outside of the library. These sorts of activities and events will help you adopt and improve the efficiency of your genealogy research methods.
RC: How might genealogy researchers most efficiently utilize genealogy collections and library consultants?
Kaufman: Think of libraries as a destination experience. Whether the genealogy center is close to you or far away, you are investing time, effort, and money in the venture. Before you visit, identify your genealogy research questions and keep them specific. For example: If you are shopping for towels, you wouldn’t ask the clerk for the “housewares” department, you would ask specifically for “towels.” The same is true for the questions you ask library consultants – remember, they don’t have the time to listen to your family stories; especially, with all the budget cuts, there are fewer librarians to help you.
RC: What are your thoughts about genealogy research websites?
Kaufman: The majority of researchers use Ancestry.com, for two reasons: they want results in five minutes, and they actually believe that everything is on the Internet. Ancestry.com features a search box – I call it the “magic box” – that lulls visitors into believing that they can type in a name and the research will be done for them. They don’t stop to examine the rest of the website to find the various databases that are available to them.
It’s important for people doing family research to learn what is available to them beyond the “magic box.” Take the time to search databases that are available online, but remember, there are limitations to researching only online. You pay your $200 to access a limited number of research databases – maybe they will have the information you need, and maybe not. A lot of people figure if they can’t find it there, it can’t be found, and that is not the case.
For example, the state of Texas did not start collecting birth and death records until 1903. If you are searching for records prior to that time, you will have to go to the courthouse (or wherever the documents are kept) in the county where the person was born or died. Marriage records for Texas don’t exist at the state level prior to 1965 – once again, you have to go to the county; you won’t find it online.
If I could create the perfect program for researchers, it would be source-related, teaching the mechanics of how-to-research. Educating lineage researchers is extremely important. Websites like RecordClick, FamilySearch, and Ancestry offer blogs with valuable resource information for genealogy researchers, online learning centers, podcasts, etc. These tools help the genealogy researcher navigate the online resources to get the most out of what is offered.
RC: What research materials do you recommend?
Kaufman: I think the best research resources are published source materials, such as vital records, microfilm, census, supplemented by databases, Internet, home sources, and anything that will offer information about a specific person in a specific place in a specific time period.
RC: What do you recommend researchers do when they hit the proverbial “brick wall?” How can a genealogy researcher regroup to find other avenues of research to find the answer?
Kaufman: The best thing a researcher can do when they hit an impasse is to read more about the issue or the era. If immigration is the issue, read more about the immigration laws pertaining to the time in question. Educate yourself about the area of research. Talk to someone and bounce ideas off them. Go through the list of research protocol to make sure you are not missing a step.
RC: I see the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research and other Texas libraries are affiliates of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. How does an affiliation like this impact library operations?
Kaufman: It is very helpful to be an affiliate of the Family History Library (FHL). Salt Lake City now serves as remote storage for a vast amount of research materials (microfilm, digital maps, video/audio presentations) that includes Hispanic, Eastern European, and British genealogy research resources, all of which can be found through FHL Library catalog and are available for online ordering from your home computer. The materials are then delivered to any FHL center you indicate, including Clayton. The FHL has a wealth of resource materials that smaller libraries could never afford, and it is continually digitizing more materials, so the depth of resources is always growing.
RC: With all of the digitization of genealogy records, why even bother with a brick and mortar building?
Kaufman: Because you will discover within the walls of a library or research center a wealth of human expertise that is needed to help find and understand published and electronic records. At the Clayton, there are eight expert staff members trained in genealogical research and librarianship, all sharing their vocation of genealogy with researchers and visitors. Being part of a larger library system also makes special collections available. A brick and mortar building, whether it’s the Texas State Archives or the Waco Genealogy Center, makes historical research a destination.
RC: Do you follow any particular blogs on genealogy? If so, which ones are your favorites?
Kaufman: I like following Geneabloggers daily blogs, and I especially like monitoring what blogs Thomas MacEntee (creator of Geneabloggers.com) is reading. Additionally, I follow Houston-based Caroline Pointer (4YourFamilyStory) and Amy Coffin‘s blogs. Another good read is the MoSGA Messenger; it is the official weblog of the Missouri State Genealogical Association.
RC: What are some of the best “must-attend” genealogy events in Texas?
Kaufman: There are a number of great events in Texas. We have the Texas State Genealogical Society annual conference coming up the first weekend of November (see below for more information). Dallas Genealogical Society hosts seminars. Victoria County Genealogical Society is another active organization in this regard. The Hispanic Genealogical Society of Houston lists organizations throughout Texas, along with related event information. Then, there are the Texas Research Ramblers Genealogical Society, which offers lectures, programs, newsletter, and additional resources. For more information contact your local library and ask the librarian if there is a genealogy or historical society in your area. There are ALWAYS meeting and lectures you can attend, even if you are not a member!
Sue invites all of you to attend the 2012 Texas State Genealogical Society annual conference at the Riley Center in Fort Worth, Texas November 1-3, 2012. Featuring Curt Witcher (genealogy author and President of the National Genealogical Society) as the major speaker, this three day conference offers multiple lectures, networking and a vendor hall to peruse.
*The opinions expressed are those of Susan Kaufman and not those of the Texas State Genealogical Society or the Houston Public Library.