Alternatives to Onsite Research

If there’s one thing we’ve learned this year, it’s that there are actual, functional alternatives to the normal way of doing things. Libraries and archives are some of our favorite (and most useful) resources, but most have simply not been open and available to researchers since March. Do we just stop our research and wait? We could, but we don’t have to.

One of the least used but most broadly applicable resources for genealogists is the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Featuring nearly 94,000 articles, the “FSRW” is a location-driven resource guide for genealogical researchers of records from around the world. See the list of quick links on the left to get an idea of some of the site’s contents, but those topics just scratch the surface. You can also try the “Guided Research” box on the right side of the page, but since it focuses on online databases for vital records, it’s of limited usefulness in my book.

To get to the goods, just click on the world map to begin to zero in on the locality you’re interested in.

(click to enlarge the image; this is not the live page with links)

Let’s take a look at the “Show-Me” state as an example of what FSRW provides in the way of research guidance. Click on “North America,” then “United States,” then “Missouri.” The sections on that page include “Getting Started with Missouri Research,” which features “Step-by-Step Missouri Research, 1880–Present.” The step-by-step guide walks readers through their suggested process with a great deal of detail, examples, and dozens of images.

“Missouri Research Tools” includes links for county boundary changes (and numerous historical maps), a list of libraries and archives (for when they re-open), and a link to an online gazetteer created and maintained by the US Geological Survey. Quick links on the right side of the Missouri page focus on beginning research, record types, state history, cultural groups, and local research resources.

A clickable map and a list of counties, independent cities, and extinct or renamed counties work in tandem to take researchers to more local resources. Perhaps those links should have been a little farther down the page, because there are still state-wide resources to explore below them. “Missouri Migration Routes” can help you discover how your ancestor got there, and perhaps where they went next. “Additional Resources” include Missouri Digital Heritage, a state-run site. Click on its “Quick Links” on the upper right for births and deaths pre-1910, county histories, plat books, city directories, and copies of original death certificates.

Clicking on any of the county links gives you more local information. The Jasper County page gives the county courthouse contact info, including a link, as well as which county offices have which records. A small table tells you when each form of vital record, court records, land records, probate records, and censuses begin in that county. Record losses due to fire are also mentioned. Following that is a review of dozens of record types (focusing on online collections), a list of research facilities, and a list of websites useful to Jasper County researchers.

Information found at FSRW is both readily accessible from where you’re sitting right now and priceless, but it’s not everything. How, for example, do you stumble across a record type or topic that you don’t even know you need? I love doing the online equivalent of browsing shelves at the library, which at FamilySearch starts at their catalog. Search by location using the FamilySearch standard of larger localities, followed by smaller localities. For Jasper County, for example, search for “United States, Missouri, Jasper.”

The results are those for Jasper County records, by dozens of record types, that are housed at the Family History Library. Many but not all have been digitized, and more digital images appear everyday. When I do my due diligence, I work my way through the list and consider any record that my ancestors may appear in, whether I expect them to be there or not. That’s how I found an 1818 divorce in Kentucky when I had no idea a divorce took place.

Everything I’ve discussed so far is US-centric, but one of the glories of FamilySearch is their collection of and knowledge about international records. Starting back at the home page with the world map, clicking on “Europe,” then “Latvia” shows a page that’s a little less populated than many of the US pages, but don’t let that fool you. That page still links to scores of online records and resources.

The link for “Latvia Church Records,” for example, illustrates the depth of information hidden behind those three little words. This critically important set of records, some of which begin in the early 17th century, is broken down and discussed by denomination. Links to FamilySearch’s actual record sets are provided, as are links to record sets hosted at other sites. And guidance is provided in reading those records, whether in German, Russian, Latvian, Polish, or Latin. Need to write to a local church in Latvia for their records? The page helps with that too. And all of this is just in reference to a single aspect of Latvian research. There is, of course, a lot more.

If you haven’t done it yet, do yourself a favor and really explore FamilySearch’s Research Wiki and their catalog. I’m willing to bet you’ll discover more than one useful thing you didn’t know before.

While FamilySearch has an unparalleled breadth of information, the NGS Research in the States guides (edited by Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FUGA, FVGS) go into significantly greater depth for each of the US states it has covered to date: Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Indiana; Kentucky; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Mississippi; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County; North Carolina; Ohio; Oklahoma; American Indians of Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; and West Virginia. New state guides and revisions to older guides are coming all the time, the latest being the new guides for Arizona and Nevada.

Oh, and a bonus for the NGS Research in States guides? All of them are under $20, and the PDF versions are even less.

So there you have it: numerous research guides, aides, links, and resources, all available right now either for free or very inexpensively. There’s plenty of work to do, even before we get back to the libraries and archives.

  1. January 2, 2021 12:30 pm

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