Be Efficient at the Archives

When you get to the remote researching site, introduce yourself to the staff. At the Logan County Genealogical Society in Russellville, Kentucky, we met Lee and Denise. Both work at the archives as clerks, so they were able to locate and retrieve and copy any documents from the courthouse. I wish more courthouses offered this resource to genealogists!

Usually the workers or volunteers at site will offer a tour. Take the tour! It will save you some time when you try to locate items. And give the workers a chance to show off their collections and their hard work. Logan County has converted an old jail facility into their archives.  The original bars on the windows add some flair. This archive was an interesting place! It was apparent that the workers and volunteers had spent countless hours organizing and protecting papers and information for the future.

While at the archive, I write down each source, and whatever I find in each source. Hit your top three reasons for being there, and then attempt to systematically go through their local stacks and featured items that you will not find elsewhere. Make sure you refer to your list of what is already available at your local library. No need for duplicating what you can do at home. If you decide to make copies, track that in your notes. Write the source information on each copied page. I also track the photograph numbers on my notepad as well. I want a smooth transition when I get back home. I’ll have a ready-made list of items to transfer to my software and to file.

Remember as you leave the archives, give a donation. If you make copies, round up and give more. Consider donating for scans, even if the archives have a policy of not charging for scans. These local genealogical societies will make good use of your money and it’s important to help them keep the doors open.

Track the sites you have visited

Trying to organize genealogical leads is like trying to herd cats! There are so many things to track, but not just that, you have to go over and over where you have already tread. To make matters just a bit more complicated, there are hundreds of duplicate names, periods of inactivity, and an ever-expanding amount of information. The goal is to go back to sources, but not to go back to sources and redo the same steps as before with the same surnames or individuals.

This is something new I have developed, so I would love your feedback. It electronically mimics what I have been doing for many years in a paper/pencil format. My paper/pencil approach has a new page for each site and I regularly add to it. The advantage electronically is that it is searchable, sortable, easily backed up, and easily transported.

I have a list of sites that I visit regularly.Although I have listed Ancestry, here, I do not actually note all of the times I go to that site. Ancestry has a great tracking system for new information with the leaves, hints, and emails.. But the other sites listed here are a sample of what I am constantly trolling. As new sites come up, I add them to the list, even if I don’t get to them for awhile. It keeps track of my “new leads”, too.

The columns of the table are for the 16 common surnames. You can add more (or less). I have color-coded blue for my dad’s family and pink for my mom’s family.  This chart is an Excel spreadsheet. I saved it as an older format to make it accessible to earlier versions of the program. If you want to try it, email me at and I will email the file to you. I promise not to pass on your information and add spam to your life!

 Here is a sample of what it could look like.  I have added in the surnames for my parents, grandparents, and so on for both my mom and dad. There are more names in pink, but you will have to imagine the chart extending.

   There are two ways that I envision this chart being used. One method could just be to insert the date for the last time you searched there. Just deleting the old date and adding the new would keep the chart smaller. What I prefer is tracking all of the times I have been there, and even more about who/what I found. If you have worked with a spreadsheet before, you know sometimes the formatting can be tricky. I have set the row to expand with the content. Otherwise data would be covered up. Also, I use “line breaks” within each cell just for readability. To insert a line break in a cell (see the yellow circled area below), use ALT +Enter.  If you decide you want to track more than just dates that you have visited a site, then you can add more information. See the orange circle below for a sample of that. I used Find a Grave as my sample. It’s the kind of site that once you have located someone, you don’t need to go back to relocate them again. You might want to go back time-to-time to see if there are new people added to that same cemetery, or new information added to a person, but in general… once you found them, you found them.  So, for Find A Grave, I list each person by name as they are located. For those duplicated names, you can add dates to keep yourself straight. Just this week I noticed on Ancestry that Find a Grave is coming up under “new hints”, so perhaps I won’t need to track this the way I have been.  Let me know if you would like to try this chart. It’s free… and we all know genealogists LOVE to hear that!

Google Reader for the genealogist

I think it’s possible that Google Reader is my favorite technological innovation of the last decade. Google Reader has revolutionized the way I read websites, news, and compile information. If you have never used Google Reader, here is a brief synopsis.

Google Reader is an aggregator. You set up subscriptions to sites, each time the site updates it compiles in Reader, and then you  can read/listen/watch whenever you want to. This works for any site that has an RSS feed and even some sites that do not have the symbol shown. Look for the symbol, usually on the front page or bottom footer of a site. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.

To use Google Reader, first you will want to set up a Gmail account. It’s free. And if you don’t have a Gmail account already designated just for genealogy, it’s probably a good idea to do that. You can also have many Gmail accounts if that’s what you decide to do. When you log into Google (Gmail, iGoogle, or any other Google site), you can choose Reader from the drop down menu of products. You can choose from a variety of preset feeds, or you can paste your own links into Reader to subscribe to any number of website updates. To use Reader for genealogical work, you can subscribe to a site such as Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter. This is what the feed looks like. The bold type without shade indicates that I haven’t read any of these recent posts. To view the first article, just click on it, and it will open up within the feed. This is what it looks like. You notice that you have the option to email the update somewhere, possibly a cousin or fellow researcher. And if you scroll through titles and  do not want to read any of the updates, there is an option to mark them as “read”. Reader works for websites, podcasts, video feeds, and blogs. I have links to blogs I am following, including conference blogs.  This is what the FGS Conference Blog looks like. Note the shaded  articles that I have read, the unshaded ones that I have not read.If you use Google Reader to subscribe to the surname boards, it’s a great way to keep track of postings by other genealogist searching for information too. So, for example if you want to look for information on the Bodey family, look for the ancestry link:
Paste that link into the subscription field. Then any time someone posts a query or response, it will load to your Reader. This is what my Robbins Family feed looks like. Make sure you add feeds for alternate spellings such as Robins if they exist.  You don’t want to miss something just because of the alternate spelling of the surname. If you briefly look at this list and decide that none of the entries are relevant, you can mark them all at once as read by choosing the double arrow button on the right. No need to open each individually.
Google Reader also gives you the option of listing just the items that have new information, or you can list all of the feeds. Here is what it looks like. The bold items have new updates, and the unbold items have no new contributions.
Google Reader is a revolutionary way to keep track of all of the tidbits and websites that you want to read. And you might be surprised when you find a cousin or two! Before you leave this site today, subscribe to Mess on the Desk as well.