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Why You Should Look for Archives in Museums

Why You Should Look for Archives in Museums

Did you know that some museums also house archives? Yes, that’s right! Museums aren’t just for artifacts and historical objects. They sometimes house documents, photographs, and ephemera. Here’s how to learn about archives at your favorite museums (big or small) and how to gain access to archival material that may reveal your family history.

Many genealogists don’t know that many of our wonderful museums have both a “front room” and a “back room.” The front room is filled with displays and exhibits that we all love to walk through and see. There could be multiple rooms filled with artifacts on display in glass cases for the visitor to enjoy. But the back room is where the archived records are located. This back room is not seen by the public but most of the time, it is there. There are shelves filled with historical and genealogical records that the genealogist shouldn’t miss out on.

For instance, at the Lincoln Memorial University Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee, they have the second largest collection of Abraham Lincoln artifacts and memorabilia in the United States in their museum. They also have a back room filled with historical and genealogical records that genealogists can access for genealogy research!

A fantastic find in a museum archive

Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton shares this example of a family history treasure found buried in a museum’s archive:

“My mom Cheryl McClellan (a professional genealogy librarian who was interviewed by Lisa Louise Cooke in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #125), visited the Steelworks Center of the West in Pueblo, Colorado with her siblings to get a better sense of the industry that employed her family there.

Imagine her glee when she discovered that the museum has an archive! According to its website, the collections include ‘over 100,000 photographs, more than 150 films, 30,000 maps and drawings, hundreds of ledgers, and internal publications such as Camp and Plant, The Industrial Bulletin, and The Blast. These are in addition to the core collection of approximately 6,000 cubic feet of records documenting CF&I’s steel production, iron and coal mining, geological records, labor relations, land and water resources, employee records, invoices and work orders, executive memoranda, correspondence, and much more, documenting every aspect of the company’s rich history.’

Unfortunately, my mom didn’t have time to stay and explore the archive in-depth. But she started corresponding with the archivist, who sent her priceless documents relating to her grandfather, John Felix. Among these was a copy of his original application for employment, his employee service record and a clipping from an employee newsletter about his exploits as a fisherman:

Sunny’s Mom: Cheryl McClellan,
Professional Genealogy Librarian

How to find museums with archives

You can look for museums with archives in them in a few different ways:

  1. When visiting a local museum, ask the curator or museum director if they have any records available for research in their collections.
  2. Go to the websites of museums–especially historical museums–you may have visited in the past. See whether they mention having an archive or research room.
  3. Google the name of your ancestor’s town (or a bigger city nearby), along with the state name, and add the search term museum.
  4. Contact a librarian, archivist, or the Chamber of Commerce in your ancestor’s town. 
  5. Use the free website, ArchiveGrid, to locate archival collections at museums. On the home page, you’ll find a map that looks something like this:

Use the map view to identify archival collections, some of which may be housed in museums, near your ancestors’ home. Hover over the red markers to see the names of institutions. Click on them to find contact information and search their collections. Once you have located the museum, contact them by phone or email and ask them about their archived records. If you can’t visit in person–or you can’t stay long enough to really search their collections–start corresponding with the archivist, as Sunny’s mom did. You may need to be patient: many archivists only work part-time and stay quite busy. But your patience may be rewarded beautifully!

As genealogists, we will search anywhere and everywhere for records about our ancestors to help tell their life story: archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, and museumsSo, the next time you travel to where your ancestors came from, check and see if there is a museum. If there is one, stop by and ask if they have a “back room” with archived records. You just might be pleasantly surprised.

The Archive Lady Melissa Barker appears regularly on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, available to Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning members. Internationally-renowned genealogy educator and podcast pioneer Lisa Louise Cooke hosts and produces the Premium Podcast, weaving together inspiring stories, research strategies and exclusive interviews. (You can also check out the free monthly Genealogy Gems Podcast, with over 2.5 million downloads worldwide and plenty of inspiration and information that can help your family history research.)

About the Author: Melissa Barker

About the Author: Melissa Barker

Melissa is a Certified Archives Records Manager, the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist and author of the popular blog A Genealogist in the Archives and an advice columnist. She has been researching her own family history for the past 27 years.

Develop Your DNA Testing Plan for Genealogy

Develop Your DNA Testing Plan for Genealogy

Developing a DNA testing plan can help ensure that your genetic genealogy testing has targeted goals and maximized results. Follow these tips from Legacy Tree Genealogists to create your own DNA testing plan. Already taken a test? It’s not too late to develop a real plan to get the most out of your results.

Your DNA testing plan

You have taken your DNA test, and you have your ethnicity estimate, but how does genetic genealogy testing actually help you with your genealogy? Where do you even begin? By developing a DNA testing plan you can ensure that you pursue your research with a focused goal in mind, which will help determine how best to proceed.

Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing us with this guest blog post.

 

Moving beyond ethnicity estimates

Even though ethnicity estimates get a great deal of attention, the most genealogically valuable element of your DNA test results is the match list which connects you to others based on your shared DNA inheritance. As you begin working with your DNA test results within the context of your genealogy, we recommend sharing and collaborating with your genetic cousins. The main goal of your correspondence with genetic cousins might be to determine the nature of your relationship, but could also include sharing information regarding your shared heritage and ancestors, or requesting their help in recruiting additional relatives to test.

However, your match list may sometimes present problems of its own. If it includes several thousand individuals it might seem overwhelming. If you only have a handful of matches, it might be discouraging. In either case, there is no need to worry. Genetic genealogy tests are constantly changing as more people test. If you have too many matches, just focus on the closest ones. If you don’t have enough, the genetic cousins you need to make genealogical breakthroughs may not have tested yet. Waiting for the right cousins to test need not be a passive pursuit. Consider target testing your known relatives (or the known relatives of your matches) to better achieve your research goals.

Creating a DNA testing plan

In order to create a robust testing plan, you first need to have a specific research subject and a clear objective. Focus on a single ancestor. Make a goal of what you hope to discover through DNA testing. DNA testing is ideal for addressing questions regarding kinship, but is not as good for exploring motivations, biographical detail or uncovering ancestral stories. Once you have a research subject and objective, then you can evaluate which relatives will be the best candidates to test to thoroughly address your research problem.

In this post we will create an example DNA testing plan for John Martin who was adopted by a shopkeeper and his wife in the mid-1800s. We have few clues as to who his biological parents may have been. Our research subject is John Martin, and our stated objective is to determine the identities of his biological parents.

Understanding shared DNA

Because of the unique inheritance pattern of autosomal DNA, testing multiple relatives of a specific research subject can be extremely beneficial. Each individual inherits half of their autosomal DNA from each of their parents. Beyond that, the amount of DNA shared in common is only approximate due to a random process – called recombination – which shuffles the DNA each generation. Each individual will inherit about 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent and approximately half the previous amount for each subsequent generation. Although two first cousins will have both inherited 25% of their DNA from each of their common grandparents (50% in total) they will have inherited a different 25%. Therefore, first cousins will typically only share about 12.5% of their DNA in common. Because descendants along distinct lines inherit different portions of their common ancestors’ DNA, it is important to test as many people from distinct family lines as possible.

Tip: Right click and ‘Save Image’ to your computer, then print this free, quick reference chart:

Don’t overlook the importance of traditional genealogy research!

Since it can be extremely beneficial to test multiple descendants of a research subject, before pursuing a detailed testing plan we recommend documenting as many descendants of an ancestor of interest as possible through traditional research. Though this process can be time consuming, it is often worth the effort. By tracing all descendants, you can accurately evaluate which genetic cousins will be best to invite to perform DNA testing. Additionally, tracing the descendants of ancestors can frequently lead to additional clues for extending ancestry. Just as different descendants inherit different DNA, they also inherit different information and historical documents regarding their ancestors. Some of that information could include clues regarding the very relationships you are trying to clarify. While searching for descendants of your ancestor of interest, consider utilizing compiled family histories, obituaries, city directories, family organizations and public records to identify living descendants.

In tracing the descendants of John Martin, we found that he had three children who lived to adulthood. We traced each of their descendants through traditional research and identified 10 living relatives (shown in gray, below). Now that we know the identities of all his living descendants we can prioritize which relatives to test.

Who you decide to test as part of your research problem can be considered within the context of coverage. Coverage is the amount of an ancestor’s DNA that is represented in a DNA among all of their tested descendants. Coverage can be estimated by determining the amount of DNA that one descendant shares with a common ancestor, plus the DNA that another descendant shares with that same ancestor, minus the DNA that both descendants share in common with that ancestor. When two full siblings perform DNA testing, they obtain a coverage of about 75% of their parents’ DNA. Testing three full siblings results in about 87.5% coverage of their parents’ DNA.

Prioritize testing to achieve the highest level of coverage

To achieve the highest coverage of a research subject’s DNA, prioritize testing the closest generational descendants. A living granddaughter of a research subject will have inherited much more DNA from the ancestor of interest than a second great grandson. You can often find the closest generational descendants of a research subject by searching for the youngest child of the youngest child of each generation of their descendants. These individuals will typically have the longest generation times, and therefore have a greater likelihood of having close living descendants.

Keep in mind that any DNA inherited from a common ancestor has to come through an individual’s immediate ancestors. If a granddaughter of a research subject is still living, and she in turn has descendants, any of the DNA that her children or grandchildren inherited from the research subject had to have come through her, and will be a subset of her own DNA. Therefore, if the granddaughter is tested, there is no need to test her descendants as well within the context of the research objective.

For example, in the case of John Martin, his granddaughter Maria is the closest living generational descendant. She will share much more DNA with John Martin than any of his other descendants. Also, any DNA that Maria’s descendants (Jennifer Jones or Matthew Williams) inherited from John Martin would be a subset of the DNA that Maria inherited from John. Therefore, if we were able to test Maria, we would not need to test Jennifer or Matthew.

Also, to achieve the highest coverage of DNA, we recommend testing descendants from unique lines. If a research subject had three children who lived to adulthood, rather than testing descendants of a single child consider testing descendants from each of the children. Testing only descendants of a single child limits the maximum coverage we can achieve, while testing descendants from each line enables maximum coverage. In this case, testing Maria, George, and Isaac or Julia would result in slightly higher coverage than testing Maria, Isaac, and Julia.

Other benefits of creating a DNA testing plan

So far, our discussion on testing plans has focused on the descendants of a research subject. However, it can also be beneficial to test other individuals as part of a research plan. Testing known relatives from other family lines can help to filter DNA test results. Any matches shared between a test subject and a known relative can be assigned to that side of the family. If there are proposed candidates who might be among the ancestors of the research subject, their descendants might be tested to prove or disprove hypotheses regarding their relationship. If, after testing, there are still very few genetic cousins, consider collaborating with those cousins to test their older relatives or representative family members from their various ancestral lines.

In this case, it has been proposed that John Martin was the son of a woman named Jessie Brown. Traditional research revealed that Jessie Brown had other living descendants who might be tested. Their test results could be used to confirm or refute the hypothesis of John’s relationship to Jessie. If their results confirm John and Jessie’s relationship, they could also be used to isolate which genetic cousins of the descendants of John Martin are likely related through the ancestry of John’s father. Finally, testing close known relatives from the other ancestral lines of each testing candidate could help to filter which genetic cousins are related through the ancestry of John Martin.

Since most researchers work within a limited research budget, developing a DNA testing plan can help prioritize which DNA test(s) should be performed first, and can help maximize the chances of successful resolution of research problems. Choose a research subject, define a clear objective, research their living descendants, prioritize DNA testing, and maximize your chances for genealogical discovery.

Creating a DNA testing plan can mean the difference between DNA results that solve genealogy mysteries and a few less-meaningful slices of ethnicity pie chart. It takes a bit of extra time, but it’s worth it.

And don’t worry: if you feel a little lost when working with DNA, Legacy Tree Genealogists has expert professionals (like today’s author) who can help you with your DNA testing plan AND help you integrate DNA discoveries and your traditional research finds for more powerful, confident answers to your family history mysteries. It’s easy to request a free consultation, and we have even arranged an exclusive offer just for our readers: $100 off a 20-hour+ research project with code GGP100.
New Records at US History Digital Archives Tell Amazing Stories

New Records at US History Digital Archives Tell Amazing Stories

Record collections and digital archives of US history reveal fascinating stories from our collective past. Here we report on resources relating to the US Colored Troops in the Civil War, old Southern architecture, higher education in Virginia, Southern burial grounds, the south side of Chicago, the history of Illinois, and WWII Japanese internment camps. What might any of these reveal about your family history?

Coming soon: U.S. Colored Troops Database

Usually, we wait to report about new online record projects until they are actually online. But we can’t wait to share this good news about records of the U.S. Colored Troops (African American soldiers who served in the Civil War). According to an NYU news release, researchers are “transcribing the contents of thousands of personnel and pension records from the Civil War, which also include marriages, children, and residencies, among other data, that are gradually forming the African American Civil War Soldiers database.” That database will eventually be housed at the African American Civil War Museum website.

US history digital archives you should know about

Southern architecture: Surveying the South

The Library of Congress has created a new series called Story Maps, which “combine text, images, multimedia, and interactive maps [from their collections] to create engaging online narrative experiences,” according to a recent announcement.

One of the first Story Maps to be created is Surveying the South, based on about 7000 photographs taken in the 1930s of “exteriors and interiors of houses, mills, and churches as well as mansions, plantations, and outbuildings” in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and West Virginia. According to the site, “Domestic dwellings are the most frequently represented structures, ranging from farmhouses and slave quarters to elegant mansions and houses, including abandoned buildings and ruins.” But there are also “city halls, courthouses, schools, churches, and cemeteries…law offices, mills, stores, and taverns.” If locations associated with your family history are part of this Story Map, it could be an incredible resource for you.

Virginia yearbooks

The Archives at the Library of Virginia announced recently, “We have been able to digitize and provide access to 2,308 yearbooks [from around the state] published though 1977, the year that copyright law impacts use. So far, 35 local libraries have contributed their yearbooks, with more in process. There is no set end date for this project; it will continue as long as…funding supports it and there are willing participants.” Click here to explore The Library of Virginia’s digitized yearbook collection (sorted by the public libraries that have contributed their copies).

Southern burial grounds

This isn’t a new collection, but it’s been moved, so it’s a nice opportunity to make you aware of it. The Tennessee State Library and Archives announced the following on its Facebook page: “The Richard C. Finch Folk Graves Digital Photograph Collection is now on [The Tennessee Virtual Archive] TeVA (formerly on the Library and Archives’ Flickr). Dr. Finch has visited hundreds of cemeteries in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana and Texas photographing covered graves. His main focus has been on comb graves, so called because architecturally, the slabs of stone make a roof or comb over a grave. Click here to learn more about comb graves and the project.

Holocaust News in US Newspapers

We have reported in the past on History Unfolded, a project by the United States Holocaust Museum that collects local U.S. newspaper coverage in the 1930s and 1940s of Holocaust-related events in an effort to better understand what American readers knew about Nazi Germany. The Dallas News reports, “With the help of hundreds of students and dedicated volunteers, the museum built an extensive online archive of American newspaper coverage of key Holocaust events, including more than 12,000 articles from every U.S. state.” Click here to search the growing archive of newspaper stories or to help find more stories in local newspapers.

Home Movies and Oral Histories: Chicago’s South Side

The rich and famous aren’t the only ones who created home movies in the past. The University of Chicago has launched a new online digital archive chronicling everyday life on the South Side of Chicago in the 20th century. “The new South Side Home Movie Project Digital Archive is a globally accessible online portal to home movies shot by residents of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods from 1929-1982,” says a university announcement.

The archive “showcases home movies organized into easily navigable categories: by the family that contributed their films; by subject matter, ranging across topics like fashion and birthdays to graduations, road trips, and the Bud Billiken Parade; year of production [and] filming location, including local landmarks like Buckingham Fountain….Oral histories recorded by family members describing their home movies are also available as companion works to the films. The archive continues to accept old home movies and encourages viewers to “to add tags and comments to help with identifying places, people, and events in the footage as participants in a collective historical project.” Click here to explore this digital archive.

Story of Illinois

The state of Illinois is celebrating its bicentennial soon, and has launched a new website to celebration. Story of Illinois is hosted by the Illinois State Museum and “features objects from the museum’s Illinois Legacy Collection as well as collections from other museums across the state that celebrate Illinois heritage,” reports the WAND 17 news website. Visitors to the free digital archive can explore the virtual exhibit by several time periods, from colonial to territorial times to early statehood, the Civil War, the industrializing age and history since 1917.

WWII Japanese internment camps

Another Story Map created by the Library of Congress is “Behind Barbed Wire,” an interactive exhibit offering “a unique glimpse into the daily lives of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during WWII through the digitized collection of internment camp newspapers at the Library of Congress.” Here, you’ll follow the story of about 120,000 U.S. residents of Japanese descent who were forcibly removed from their homes and located first in temporary assembly centers and then in permanent internment camps.

At the heart of this collection are more than 4,600 English- and Japanese-language newspaper issues published in 13 camps by the residents themselves. According to the site, “Camp newspapers kept residents informed, relaying administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other tidbits concerning daily camp life. They published not only straight news, but also editorials, opinions, human-interest stories, and entertainment pieces such as sports news, literary works, and comic strips. They recorded the daily activities of residents for whom, even in detention, life still continued on.”

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

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