From the Wish List of this Genealogy Researcher: An Archive Finding Aid

When RecordClick’s professional genealogist Joan Shurtliff searches for information, she is thorough and diligent. Yet, even she has a wish list that includes ways for archives to make things more clear and simple. If only archives and other holders of precious information such as historical societies had the type of online presence that our very experienced genealogist suggests…

This RecordClick genealogist has a wish list. Well, I have more than that because I do have some families about whom I wish I could find more information.

WISH NUMBER ONE: I wish some archives were a little more user friendly.

Most have an online list of their holdings. Some of these lists make sense and others, well, not so much. It is help for the “not so much” part that I am interested in. It gets jumbled when, as we genealogy researcher know, each town, city, county and state frequently has a different way of handling things and different terms for offices and courts. A District Court in one state may be a Surrogate’s Court in another state. One city may have a Town Council while another may have a Board of Commissioners. All have records. It can get just a bit confusing for the family history researcher.

Genealogists search in archives--on line.

Genealogists search in archives–on line.

Last week, the genealogy god of serendipity must have been smiling at me because I found something I have been looking for and I didn’t even know it.

The Louisiana Division/City Archives in New Orleans has an online exhibit Hidden from History – Unknown New Orleanians. Even though I don’t have any connections to New Orleans, I find the concept of an online exhibit interesting. Hidden from History was created by Dr. Emily Epstein Landau and was on display in the Louisiana Division City Archives at the New Orleans Main Library in 2008. The online version was designed by Irene Wainwright. The exhibit presents the genealogy researcher with resources at the archives and it also provides information about how the city worked. This genealogy researcher found this online exhibit to be a good source for the New Orleans police department information.

Hidden from History looks specifically at those who are in the margins of society. The online exhibit begins with mug shots –faces not too different from those I saw when I visited Ellis Island. The mug shots are ordered with numbers corresponding to each mug shot, or Bertillon cards. These cards provide some personal information about the individual. Yet, as the genealogy researcher knows, few ancestors are going to have mug shots or have been arrested. These type of records deal with more than criminals. Police records also deal with families and their issues and with those people  who have had mental health issues. This online exhibit also mentions their transportation logs that recorded travels to the State insane asylum.  Even better than that, there is the correspondence noted in this online exhibit between the police department and other governmental entities. This cache includes:

  • Letters concerning space in the insane asylum for patients
  • Reports about individuals who died while in custody
  • Issues dealing with the indigent
  • Requests by individuals seeking free permits to operate a business from their home
  • Requests from individuals or groups seeking donations
  • Letters from individuals concerning questionable activities of their neighbors
  • Issues relating to evictions

It is a lot to sort through! And the good genealogy researcher should always be prepared to search.

So, if an ancestor was committed to an insane asylum, a police log or report might provide some insight into what was going on. And how many people have tried to earn just a little extra money by starting a small family business?

Right?

WISH NUMBER TWO:  I want more historical societies and archives to create online exhibits.

Family history researchers can name the usual resources by rote: census records, vital records, marriage records, deeds, tax lists, newspapers, the family bible and list goes on. But what about that family member who doesn’t seem to have left much of a paper trail? Maybe there’s a census record, but the ancestor didn’t own property or have enough money to pay taxes and seems to have vanished into thin air. The genealogy researcher finds an online list of archival holdings. But  then what does it all mean? This is where an online exhibit might help.

The topics that could be accessed are limited only by the imagination. These exhibits will provide the lists of what is in the archives or in the historical society’s holdings. An online exhibit will provide instant insight on how record keeping works in a certain city, county or state. The pictures in an online exhibit tell stories for us. An online exhibit will make the genealogy researcher wonder and ask questions. Who are these people? How did they wind up here? Why are they important?

The experienced genealogists at RecordClick will find your ancestors. We will find the details of their lives and who they were in the world. They don’t need to have been rich or  famous. They may have been a pillar of the community, a scoundrel or just plain folks. Our family’s farmers and laborers have their place in our world of genealogy. RecordClick genealogists will search through archival holdings to find that person, create the family history, and bring alive the life of those people who are important to you.

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