Guest Post: Are You Going Local with Your Research?


As a genealogy expert, I often read blog posts and articles written by my fellow genealogists. A few weeks ago, I found an interesting post by Kathryn Lake Hogan, on the importance of archives and preparations we should follow when researching there. Kathryn has allowed us to re-publish her post here. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

The following is a guest post by Kathryn Lake Hogan, author of the blog “Looking4Ancestors.” She is known for her fun and dynamic style as a professional genealogist, author, educator, and speaker. She volunteers as a director-at-Large with the Association of Professional Genealogists. Kathryn is the Canadian research virtual chat host/coordinator with the Institute. She is the past Dominion Genealogist of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada. A native of Ontario, Canada, she has deep roots in Canada through her Loyalist lineage, as well as ancestry in New England, England, and Wales.

With the ever increasing availability of accessing databases and documents online, you might think you’ll never have to leave your house to research your ancestors. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Most libraries, public institutions, and archives have more documents in their holdings than will ever be available on the internet. Going local with your family history research will likely involve a trip to the municipal or regional archives in your area of interest. Before visiting the archives, there are a few things to do to help you get the most out of your time there.

Plan for Your Visit
Make the most of your time at the archives by checking to see if it has a website. Make a note of the days and times when the archives are open. You don’t want to arrive at an archive to find that it’s closed on the day of your visit. If you’re driving, be sure to check about parking availability and if you have to pay. Use your time wisely. Look for online databases on the archives website. These databases can be searched at home before your trip allowing you to use your time more efficiently while onsite.

Read Ahead
Not sure how to research land records in that area, or how to access estate records? Some archives have research guides available on their website. Read these ahead of time. You might want to print a copy and bring it with you.

List What You Are Researching
What documents, microfilms, maps, etc. do you want to research while at the archives? Making a list and having a plan will help you make the most of your time there.

Call Ahead
Always call the archives ahead of time. The archives website will likely provide you with information about how early you should contact them about your visit. Some archives require a week’s notice to retrieve items not stored onsite. Calling at least two to three days in advance of your visit will allow time for the archivists to retrieve the items in anticipation of your visit. Briefly explain who are researching, where your ancestor was located in the area, and the time frame.

Most archives will require you to register upon arrival, especially if it is your first visit. You’ll likely be asked for your name, address, telephone number and email address. You might receive an ID card. You’ll likely have to sign in upon your arrival and sign out upon leaving. Check to see if you can register online.

My recent visit to the Regional Peel Archives (in Brampton, Ontario) turned out to be a fantastic afternoon of research because I called ahead that morning. It was a spur-of-the-moment visit as I had not originally intended to visit there. However, when I arrived one of the archivists was ready for my visit. He already had some ideas of what items I needed to look at while I was there.

Follow the Rules
You may not be able to bring your bag/purse/backpack into the archives with you. You may not be able to use your laptop or tablet. This is why calling ahead is important. Check with the archivist about what the archives policy is for copying documents and/or taking photographs. Most archives will not allow you to use pens. Be prepared and bring your pencils. Also, bring along a pad of paper or notebook to keep notes.

Be Courteous
Be polite, considerate and courteous. Be brief in explaining what you’re researching. The archivist doesn’t have time to listen to your lamentations about your family history brick wall. Part of their job is to assist you in finding the documents. They will not do the research for you. Smaller archives will likely have smaller numbers of staff. There may be other patrons the archivist is assisting. Be patient. Be sure to thank the archivist for their help.

Have Fun
By taking the time to plan ahead, your trip to the local archives will likely be educational, productive and enjoyable.


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