An out-of-town research trip– Part 2

Preparing Your Notebook 

Taking a few small steps ahead of time to get organized will help you be more efficient when you go to a new archive or library to research.  Start with a three-ring binder to keep track of the trip. I have notebooks that track my library visits (and future visits) to other states. Using a tab for each state and a plastic sleeve or page protector to hold maps, you will be ready to compile what you need for an out-of-town trip. 

When you order maps for the local, county, and state regions, compile them all in one place in a plastic sleeve. I also look for a map that shows just the counties of the state where I am visiting. There are many places online where these county-only maps are available for no cost.

The first thing that I add to my notebook is a list of resources already available in my local library. I live near Columbus, Ohio, so I start with the Columbus Metropolitan Library. There is no reason to go out-of-state to another library and look at the same resources that your local library already has.

 I searched the genealogy department to print out the list of Logan County, Kentucky, books and Russellville, Kentucky, books. I use this list for two purposes. If I have time before I go, I can look at these. And this printout gives me most of the information needed for citations. Search for surnames along with location to make sure you have exhausted their collection.

Then I search for google books– pdfs of any of the older county history books or family history books that are out-of-copyright. Again, there is no sense using valuable research time in a library with a book that you can use at home.If an ebook is available for free, download it. I usually move them to another device, such as a Kindle or Nook, but save the pdf while it’s there and while it’s free. Occasionally I have gone back to look for a book that is no longer available. Most of these older centennial books and county history books do not have indexes, so I generally add the page numbers to the file name so that I can find them later.

The next stop to building a notebook is to print some things from Rootsweb. Print out what is available from the state or county archives of the destination state. And also, find cemetery addresses, hours of operation, and interment lists (if available). If you only have time to go to one or two cemeteries, make it count!

Use information at Find-a-Grave to uncover new leads and print lists. Remember, Find-a-Grave rarely has a complete interment list. But you might be surprised that someone has uploaded an entire cemetery’s worth of inscriptions and photos. Search by county or search by surname with county. 

The final item that I add to my notebook is a list of what the destination library has in their collection. In addition to having a checklist of what to look for and citations, I also can use these lists to prioritize what I am going to do first. I make a list of the books about the location. And I make a separate list for each major surname I plan to research as well. I have found some gems by searching library sites for surnames. It was not too productive here, but I was searching for Washer. You can imagine what kind of hits I get. And the second surname is Neal, so everything in their geNEALogy collection came up.

Use all of the available online sites to compile your lists and directions and possible sources at your local library and to prepare for the trip to your out-of-town library. The next installment of this series will be about preparing your family tree for the trip.

An out-of-town research trip– Part 1

When you plan for an out-of-town research trip, there is more to do than book a hotel and fire up the GPS. Any successful genealogy trip requires some preparation. Two major areas to consider. Are the resources and locations going to be available while you are there? What are the rules for the archives– the dos and don’ts?

6-8 weeks before you go 

First locate where the genealogical resources are in the county or city you plan to research. My upcoming trip is to Russellville, Kentucky, in Logan County. Start with the local genealogical society.

The first great find… volunteers to help with long-distance research! So, start making a list with each of these categories. Who do I need to find in “Marriages, 1792-1974″? It would help to know before you go if they have lookup and copy services available through the mail or by email. Your list of what you can do from home should help you refine your list of what to do on site. Look to see if the genealogical society has special collectionsLocate the name, address, and hours of operation for the archive.  Make sure you take note of any restrictions on accessing the archives. Some only allow paper and pencil. Some do not allow photography. If there are no restrictions posted, email or call to inquire. It’s worth looking up the special days that the archive is closed. It looks like the county has a listing of the officially recognized Logan County holidays.Their website lists each collection and how copies or scans can be obtained. While you are at the genealogical society site, look for information on membership. There are many benefits to membership. Most have nominal fees, but supply wonderful information, updates, and lists of new additions to their collections. If you have family that has been in a region for a generation,  you might be surprised how much you will glean from the newsletters and emails from that region. In addition, joining the society might offer the ability to access sites and collections at a lower cost or for no fee. Join and support the local societies even if it is just in appreciation of their hard work and diligence.

 Make sure to check the other online resources available. No need to make a trip out-of-town or out-of-state just to tread through sources you can look at at home. The State of Kentucky has online resources, so make sure you take note of their major collections. Check the website for the local chamber of commerce or tourism commission. Often times there is a short history of the county or town that will give a local flavor. Some of these sites have cemetery listings. Make sure to make a list of local cemetery locations, hours, and print/save the interment lists if they are available.

Finally, while at the local sites and state sites, order printed maps. State, county, township, and city maps are a valuable to addition to your research and files. The final pre-trip preparation is to look up the local or county library system. Just as with the archives, find the local hours of operation and address. It’s important, too, to make sure that you find the library services and restrictions. Can you scan? Can you take photos or bring your computer? How much does it cost to make copies?  Are there other restrictions?

 Check to see what is required to obtain a library card. Most libraries will grant a library card to residents of the state. I am always amazed at the library editions of databases or special services that are available on the web sites of some libraries. This will also allow you to take a book or two with you back to the hotel if you want to extend your research beyond the library hours.Now the beginnings of a research trip are underway. The next posting will delve more specifically into the research plan and how to stay organized and efficient when you are at a new site with so many new sources of information.

An interview with Dr. Alvy Ray Smith

I had an enjoyable talk with Dr. Smith at the National Genealogical Conference following his lecture, “Advanced Word: Automatic Numbering for Genealogies.” Dr. Alvy Ray Smith is a published author, lecturer, and scholar. Dr. Smith holds a PhD from Stanford in computer science. He also is a member of FASG, a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. This honorary society is limited to 50 living people receiving an invitation due to their scholarly contribution to genealogy.

In addition to his accomplishments in genealogy, I was in awe of his varied and amazing accomplishments. Dr. Smith was a founding member of Pixar. He has won technical awards for animation and filmmaking including an Academy Award for his work in developing pioneering techniques in digital paint systems used to make motion pictures. I have to admit I was a bit star-struck when I realized that he had ties to some large tech names and products including but not limited to Pixar, Xerox, Lucasfilm, Microsoft, and Altamira. I was fascinated to learn of his work on the Visible Human Project through the National Library of Medicine.

Even though the lecture was billed as an Intermediate to Advanced level class, there were a wide range of attendees. And just to make it interesting, there were Word users from 2003, 2007, and 2010. The occasional Mac user added some flair, complaining that they could not find the correct menus and commands. The presentation was interesting and informative. I left the session feeling competent to use automatic numbering to simplify my research and well-versed in the advantages of this type of organization. Especially useful with long registers of generations, the advantages of automatic numbering outweigh the time it takes to learn the techniques and set up a document.

Another take-away of the presentation is that publishing—genealogical and otherwise—is moving away from flat books to three-dimensional hyperlinked and expandable digital formats. PDF books are downloadable and much more user friendly than following the pagination and numbering of genealogical registers in print products.

I asked Dr. Smith if he would consider selling templates or macros to speed up with the auto numbering process. He made available a link to his web site where he has a tutorial, templates, and instructions for anyone’s use for no charge.

When asked if Dr. Smith used any other organizational tools in his own research and publishing, he responded, “I primarily use Word.” He talked about the power behind Word that is rarely utilized and not often capitalized upon. He suggested exploring Word to find its special features, built in macros, and amazing functioning power.

After an informative lecture and great conversation about genealogy, I still found myself enamored with having one degree of separation from the man who directed the “first use of full computer graphics” for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This genealogist and Trekkie loved it!

An interview with Robert Raymond

It was such a pleasure to interview Robert Raymond, the presenter of “Using Excel to Create Time Lines” at the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference. Mr. Raymond is a member of the NGS Board of Directors and is Deputy for FamilySearch Chief Genealogical Officer, David Rencher. Mr. Raymond also writes an award-winning blog and the author of a family history website.

“Using Excel to Create Timelines” is an interesting topic to help genealogists place their families in historical context and to organize data in a visual format. Mr. Raymond demonstrated how to use Excel to create time lines. One of the tough situations at a conference of this type is to reach the audience about the possibilities of the software without getting bogged down in the keystrokes and menus. Mr. Raymond explained the technical aspects and also was able to convey the usefulness of this method to provide context for family history.

There are some tricks to working with Excel. Dates after 1900 are already formatted with the default settings, but Excel does not support pre-1900 dates. Mr. Raymond suggested placing dates in Excel in the typical genealogical format: 24 Oct 1881 and also making a separate column for the sortable format: 1881-10-24. There were some tricks to using years with no month or date: 1719-00-00. This sortable format will allow the time line to fill in the proper sequence.

Mr. Raymond generated many types of charts using data. He made a time line with a table where the text was oriented at a 45-degree angle.

 He also showed participants how to create an XY Scatter Graph.

 In addition, Mr. Raymond demonstrated making a bar graph from a table of data.

Mr. Raymond was so gracious to spend a few minutes from his busy time at NGS 2012 to talk about genealogical organization. If you have a chance at future conferences, look for a Robert Raymond presentation. You will certainly enjoy it and learn something new and useful!

Graphs used with permission of the author and creator, Robert Raymond.