Availability of Records

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by Amanda Forson, World Vital Records, Inc.

Due to an ever-increasing amount of online records, the genealogical field is much easier to use, enabling faster research than ever for a wider group. Despite this accessibility, not all documents are available exactly when and where they are wanted. Some documents that a searcher may want do not exist in the format that seems most likely-online, or offline, such as basic vital certificates currently considered normal proof of identity.

Before giving up on a problem and considering it an “unsolvable brick wall,” recognize there is always another source possible. Ways of checking for accessibility of records:

1. Research Outlines produced by the LDS Church.
While some of these outlines are dated, they do contain good source recommendations for the best places to search. They also usually give brief histories, and special sources of better collections that are particularly useful for a given location. An example is Tanguay’s “Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes françaises depuis les origines de la colonie jusqu’à nos jours,” the French Canadian genealogical dictionary of ” and historical records throughout Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, , and the old French settlements in the United States.” (New Advent 2007) This can be found in the Quebec research guide found online: Quebec, Canada genealogy.

2. The Handybook for Genealogists:
This book is crucial to American genealogical research and should be in the home library of any family historian who is doing research in any of the 50 states. Why? The organization of the book is by state and then by county. As the United States grew, counties were formed and divided. One of my favorite “brick wall busters” is comparing a county’s geographical area against a time frame. This can be done as easily using software like AniMap, from Ohana Software.

For example, while Chester County, Pennsylvania is an original county (part of the state when it was formed), its current location does not include the more than fifteen other counties that can eventually trace their geo-political genealogy back to this county. The book makes it easy to track down what the right county may have been, and what records the counties keep for certain time periods in their histories.

Also spectacular for this large reference volume are the listings of societies and repositories located throughout the state, bibliographical resources (this is not the first article to write on available records, nor is it all-comprehensive), atlases, maps, and gazetteers, available censuses and substitutes, court, probate, and wills, emigration, immigration, migration, and naturalization, land and property records, military records, and vital and cemetery records. States and counties differ as to what records are available, and this is one of the best books available for finding out this material.

3. Ancestry’s Red Book:
While similar to the Handybook in nature, Ancestry’s Red Book covers the information in a different format. Both are useful for finding out the websites and contact information for each county. Purchasing one does not diminish or lessen the effectiveness or necessity for the other.

4. Read through the section of a county history
for the town in question where ancestors lived. Often there are facts about local history recorded within the sections that otherwise do not make an official county Web page today.

5. Look for guides to sources such as The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Printed Sources (covering printed materials often overlooked), and Hidden Sources, all covering different aspects of how to search for the right materials, and all useful in a personal library for the professional, enthusiast, hobbyist, and even novice.

The most important part of the genealogist’s exercise is to ask questions. Those questions may lead to a reference book. They may also eventually lead to a professional in the field, so designated by credentials and expertise. No matter what, never stop asking. The only “stupid” question is the one that isn’t asked.

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