Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting ready ...

Back from a three-week hiatus with no genealogical connections, and diving into my prep for a trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

My big concern when going to a major institution like the FHL is this: how do I focus on one or two main research problems when I know there are scores of information sources there that I won’t be able to look at again anytime soon?

One time, years ago, I typed up 42 separate questions for study at the library! (And some are still sitting in my files, unanswered.) OK, so that was too many, Since then I have learned to keep the list shorter, and to try to make tighter priorities. But still -- if somehow I arrived and discovered a newly-added source of information -- like some previously inaccessible documents from Jasper County, Indiana -- I know I would drop everything and go for that.

The secret, then, is to be flexible. I will write up my proposed research plans, one project per sheet or folder, with space for entering notes, and try to stick to them. But priorities have a way of changing once one gets into the stacks. It just happens.

[My concession to the Research Log protocol is that I put each problem on a separate sheet and make sure to note the sources checked, whether or not they yielded any data]

It has been suggested that since FHL microfilms can be borrowed for use at a local Family History Center (for a fee and after a wait of some weeks), it makes more sense, when in Salt Lake City, to look at books and periodicals that are not on film. I do agree, sort of, and love nothing better than to settle myself at one of their big library tables with a stack of books at my elbow. I don’t even have to move to the banks of computers to consult the library catalog or subscription databases, since logging in wirelessly to the Library’s own website is possible from my own laptop. [Health alert: it is important to get up and walk around ONCE in a while]

There are times, however, when turning to the films is not only convenient, but necessary. A clue in a family history book (moved back from the Joseph Smith Building, thank goodness) may lead me to try to confirm something on filmed court records. And going through the indexes to those records may lead me to something else I have been looking for …

The answer seems to be to keep one’s priorities firmly in mind. I have sometimes gotten so hung up on a particular surname that I lose sight of the fact that it was just the name of some collateral relative’s second husband! Interesting, perhaps, but would pursuit of it really be worth my precious and limited time?

It is vitally important to look at the FHL’s online catalog before making the visit -- we all know that. But sometimes things get overlooked, or haven’t been added, and we make wonderful discoveries onsite.

I think my new motto is: Serendipity requires flexibility. The corollary: Flexibility has its limits.


One other thing that can be done before a trip is to make a search on PERSI (part of the Heritage Quest database collection, available from home through the Sonoma County Library system) for periodical articles which might have relevance. Sending for copies is quite inexpensive, but seeing them firsthand is faster and more efficient. The Family History Library subscribes to many genealogical publications and PERSI’s index is a good way to find the nuggets which may be buried within those pages. [PERSI stands for “Periodical Source Index” and is a compilation, regularly updated, of genealogical periodicals by the Allen County Public Library.]

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