Kerry in Texas asks: “I am about to start doing genealogy research in a county in Texas where I have never done research before. I don’t know what records are available or where they are located. What advice can you give me on the best way to start researching in a new area?”
Researching in a New Area
Kerry asks a great question about a situation that happens to many genealogists. When we locate a new ancestor or start researching down a new family line, this can take us to new research areas. Whether that is a new state in the United States, a new county within a state or even a new country, there are some first steps that can be taken to make researching in a new area less painful.
Use the Internet
First and foremost, use the Internet to your advantage. Before you jump in your car and just take off to that new area, do some work checking to see what can be found online. Everyone knows my mantra is “It’s Not All Online, Contact or Visit an Archive Today” and this is so very true. But it is always a good idea to check online sources first.
When I am starting genealogy research in a new area, one of the first places I go online to get a feel for what could be available is the USGenWeb Project (http://www.usgenweb.org/). This free website is a United States-based website arranged by state. Each state is further separated into individual counties that have their own sites with that county’s genealogical information listed. Each county’s site is different and could contain a lot of information or a small amount of information.
The next website I access is the FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page). This database is part of the larger FamilySearch.org website. This wiki contains information about available genealogical records online and off line across the United States and in 244 other countries.
My next step is to do a search for any archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies or museums in the area where I want to start research. Many of these facilities have websites and they could also have transcribed records or indexes of the records they house. Use the contact information on the website and contact the repository to discuss with the archivist or librarian the information you are looking for and to find out what records they have available.
Take Notes for Future Use
It is very important to take notes when you are checking websites and talking to archivist by phone for the area where you are starting your new research. These notes will come in handy when you actually visit the facility.
Read Local History
Another tip would be to read up on the history of the area, especially the time period when your ancestors were living there. This might help you familiarize yourself with the area and what was happening during the time your ancestor lived there.
Plan a Research Trip
After checking the internet for records references and any history on the area, planning a trip to the local archives or the facility where the records are located is a great idea. An onsite visit is always a good idea because most archives won’t have all of their records online. I always suggest that researchers talk to several people and organizations in a new research area. Talk to the local librarian, the Chamber of Commerce, the local historian and the local archivist. By talking to all of these people or organizations, you will hopefully get an idea of where the genealogical records are located and can be accessed.
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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