Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, is a strong advocate of visiting archives, but she realizes online access is sometimes necessary. Here are her tips for getting the most out of online archival research!
Katherine in Tennessee asks: “I am not always able to go to the archives where my ancestor’s records are located. Can you give me some ideas on how I can do my genealogy research from home?”
Katherine asks a great question that many of us have encountered while researching our ancestors. Not all of us can travel to the libraries, archives and courthouses where we believe our ancestors records are located. Some of us live miles and miles away the records we need to get our hands on. My own ancestors are from the West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland areas and I don’t get the chance to travel to those areas to do research, I have to do it online.
School Records, Houston County, TN. ArchivesIt is true that as an archivist I strongly encourage researchers to visit local archives, libraries and courthouses to search through the records because some of these records are not online. With that said, we are living in an age when more and more records are being published online. Archives are seeing the value of indexing and digitizing their records in order to make them available to the researching public.
Many of our archives have great websites that can help us with our genealogy research. While we may not find all the records we are seeking, we may be surprised by what we do find.
First, locate online websites for any place that holds governmental, genealogical and historical records. You can do this by doing a Google search or I would suggest going to the state archives website of where you are interested in doing research. The state archives website should have a page where they list all the available archives in that state and may even have web addresses and contact information. Once you have found the website, you are ready to explore. Another great source I can highly recommend for finding archive websites, Facebook pages and other online genealogy sites is Cyndi’s List (https://www.cyndislist.com/us/). Cyndi’s List is a website that has compiled over 300,000 links to internet genealogy websites that have been categorized and cross-referenced.
Once you have landed on an archive’s website, it’s time to explore. It may be that you will need to click through several pages and links to find indexed and digitized records. The records could be located under headings such as: “Collections,” “Records,” “Holdings,” “Special Collections” or “Manuscript Collections”. Clicking on the links available and reading the descriptions of what each database is, will help you to know if there is information there that can help you.
Many archives have also added digitized records to their website. The Washington County, Tennessee Archives (https://wctnarchives.org/) has digitized Early Tax Lists from 1778-1799. This online digitized collection includes the actual digitized documents of these early tax lists and would be a great resource for anyone researching their ancestors in Washington County, Tennessee during this time period.
Another great resource to find online genealogy records is the USGenWeb Project (https://www.usgenweb.org/). This is one of my “go-to” websites to find genealogy information and records by locality. The USGenWeb Project is “a group of volunteers working together and having fun providing free online genealogy help and information for every U.S. state and county.” I am one of those volunteers, I am the administrator for the Houston County and Dickson County Tennessee pages.
One of my favorite USGenWeb pages is the Stewart County, Tennessee page (https://www.tngenweb.org/stewart/). Jim Long, the administrator of this page, has done a fantastic job filling the site with information, indexes and digitized records about Stewart County and the people who lived there.
Online genealogy research can be quite successful. Taking the time to search websites and online databases can be the way that you can connect to your ancestors and their records.
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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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