Damage reports are surfacing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today we discuss how two Texas library collections have fared, and disaster recovery strategies for genealogy researchers. I’ve got a fantastic get-started video tip for those trying to rescue documents, photos, and other family heirlooms–and the two steps everyone should take to protect their priceless genealogical collections.
Port Aransas, Texas
My heart goes out to those who have been in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently. Knowing I live in Texas, many of you have asked how my family is doing. I’m happy to report that the storms didn’t reach those of us here north of Dallas. However, our daughter Hannah and her husband, while thankfully safe after evacuating from their home on the Texas shore, suffered the loss of their car and other possessions, and Hannah’s workplace was destroyed. They are now part of the relief and recovery efforts, and look forward to when they will be able to return to their home, which is currently uninhabitable. We feel very blessed that they are safe and sound, and our prayers go out to all who suffered losses.
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Libraries
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.
As lives are secured and order begins to be restored in devastated areas, I’ve wondered how various genealogy libraries and archives have fared. Genealogy Gems listener Chris emailed me with an alert that the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas has suffered some damage. “So sad for genies!” she writes. Indeed! The Clayton is one of the top public library genealogy research centers in the United States.
Not wanting to disturb their recovery efforts with a phone inquiry, I’ve turned to Google searching and social media for a status report. The Houston Public Library Foundation states that the Clayton is among one of 10 library locations that are “unable to open due to various building damages.” The Clayton Library Friends Facebook page offers more specifics–and this hopeful report:
“Yes, there was some flooding at Clayton Library and according to Susan Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library is closed this week. Clayton Library staff will be deployed to other libraries that are open.
Clayton Library did suffer some water damage but it was not really that bad. They just need to decide how best to proceed since they were planning on doing renovations soon anyway.”
CityofHouston.news tells us what Clayton staff may be doing at other library branches: “The services and resources that are available at your library system include free access to WiFi and computers, one-on-one assistance with filling out applications and forms, and access to the expertise of library archivists who can assist you in preserving and saving precious family memorabilia such as books, letters and photographs that may have been damaged in the storm.”
Chris’ email encourages us to support the recovery effort for Houston’s libraries through the Houston Public Library Foundation: here’s the link she sent to their donation portal.
Port Arthur Public Library, Port Arthur, Texas. Image from library website.
Down on the coast, another library system wasn’t so fortunate. The Port Arthur Library will remain closed for months, reports the Port Arthur News. “The Port Arthur Public Library was one of many buildings hit hard by Harvey,” states an article by L.V. Salinas. “It sustained flood damage and the subsequent mold issue inundated buildings often face afterward. It also sustained substantial damage and loss of property of its books, computer equipment, archives and more.”
Crews are working to clean up and preserve what they can. High priority is being given to their historical and genealogical resources: “One of the costlier processes was the freeze-drying of irreplaceable items like genealogy records, microfilm, Port Arthur historical photos and collections. The intent, as performed by companies contracted by the city, was to prevent any further damage from taking place, kill the bacteria that’s present and preserve the items long enough for a transference of information by experts.”
The Port Arthur History Collection is proudly described on the library website; it includes a collection of historic photos that were lovingly organized by volunteers and placed in archival-quality storage. “It’s one of our highest buy testosterone medication priorities,” states a library official in the article. “It’s time sensitive, and it has to happen now….We have to preserve it now.”
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Researchers
As genealogists, we to have our personal and precious libraries and archives. We build trees in software–some of us spending hundreds or thousands of hours on them. We may have files, books, and other research materials. Many of us are family archivists: the stewards of priceless original family documents, photos, and other artifacts. Here’s some level-headed counsel for after a disaster strikes–and here’s what the rest of us should be doing now, before another disaster.
After a Disaster: Take It One Step at a Time
If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, I’d like to share this fantastic, level-headed advice from Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections (Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900–the “deadliest natural disaster in American history”):
I love her compassionate advice:
“Walking into [your home after a disaster] is very overwhelming. Try to take a deep breath and think about the things that matter most to you and what your priorities are. Take it one piece at a time: after you’ve finished that one, move on to the next.” -Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections
Start your recovery efforts with whatever matters most to you, Renee says. But she reminds us that certain items are more vulnerable to destruction than others, so try to also focus on things made out of paper and photographs, then cloth, then wood. Leave your china, silver, and glassware until these other items have been stabilized.
Before Disaster Strikes: Digitize and Back It Up!
If a disaster strikes, most of us won’t have the time to grab all our genealogy research files, photographs, and other precious heirlooms. But many of these items are one-of-a-kind–unless we make them two-or-more-of-a-kind!
As family archivists, we can best preserve our past by:
Digitizing it. Make high-quality digital scans of original documents and photos. Take digital pictures of three-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, handicrafts, even quilts.
Backing up your digital files. Should a disaster occur–whether storm, theft, or fire–your computer may suffer the same fate as any original documents and heirlooms in your home. So I recommend investing in an automated, cloud-based backup service for your computer.
For a few dollars a month, a cloud-based backup service will continually back up your computer files to a remote server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), you can download them again. Having a digitized version of those original Civil War letters or photos isn’t quite the same as the real thing–but it’s so much better than having them disappear entirely. And if you’re like me, your computer doesn’t just house your photos and research files. It may have hundreds or even thousands of work files, personal files, music, or video files and more.
I use Backblaze for my personal computer and to back up thousands of Genealogy Gems audio, video, and other files. Backblaze is made for everyday consumers: it’s affordable and easy to use. Do your research yourself and choose the best cloud-based backup for you (click here to read the 8 features you should be watching for).
Our Service “Happiness” Manager, Lacey, experienced first hand the benefits of having her computer backed up:
Right after our Genealogy Gems seminar in Dallas in early August, I came home, sat down to work, and discovered my laptop had died. I tried everything I could find to get it going again (thanks to Google search results) but it couldn’t be revived. Thankfully, I had both Backblaze and Dropbox installed on my computer, and I didn’t lose any files at all. I was able to get everything back! Even my Google account saved all of my settings and bookmarks for my Chrome browser, so when I got my new computer, just about everything was restored as though nothing had happened. I was SO RELIEVED! Planning ahead really paid off!
(If you decide to go with my favorite, Backblaze, thanks for clicking here to purchase it. The modest commission we receive supports the free information I provide on this website and the Genealogy Gems podcast.)
My sincere wishes for the safety of your families–and your family history.
Show Notes: The FamilySearch Wiki is like a free encyclopedia of genealogy! In this FamilySearch Wiki tutorial, discover the wealth of information the Wiki has to offer, and learn the secrets to navigating it with ease. We’ll also cover the number #1 reason people get frustrated when searching the Wiki and how to overcome it.
Watch the Video
RootsTech has set the class video to “private”. You can watch it on their website by going to the video page in their on-demand library. You may need to sign in to your free FamilySearch account in order to watch it.
has links to both internal and external resource pages
The FamilySearch Wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. It’s basically an encyclopedia of information. But the exciting part is that it’s specific to genealogy. This means you don’t usually have to worry about including the word genealogy in your searches.
What Does the FamilySearch Wiki Do?
The FamilySearch Wiki is focused on providing information for genealogy research such as:
how to find data
where to find data
how to analyze and use the data
What are the sources of Wiki content?
Original material was added from the old Family History Library research outlines.
User added material in their areas of genealogical expertise. The Wiki is constantly being updated by LDS missionaries and other volunteers as new material is discovered or released.
Don’t worry about Contributor info.
You’re going to see many things about wiki creation and management. Not everything is relevant to you when just wanting to find information. In fact, the majority of the Help section is geared to people creating, editing and maintaining pages. Don’t worry about being a contributor. Enjoy being a user.
2 Ways to Access the FamilySearch Wiki
Going directly to https://www.familysearch.org/wiki. Although you can sign into your free FamilySearch account on this page (in the upper right corner) it isn’t necessary in order to use it.
Logging in at the FamilySearch website. In the menu under Search click Research Wiki. By logging in and you’ll have access to additional features like participating in discussions, posting and creating watchlists.
The FamilySearch Wiki focuses on records, not ancestors.
Keep in mind that the purpose of the Wiki is to explain where genealogical materials are located and how to get access to them. The Wiki does not have individual ancestor information. If you want to find records, start by deciding specifically what kind of records you want. Identify when and where the ancestor lived at the time the record was created. Then head to the Wiki to figure out what records are available and where they can be found.
The Wiki links to:
Materials that available at FamilySearch.org or any other online genealogy website.
Materials that are not available at FamilySearch.org or any other online genealogy site.
Materials that were previously unknown or newly made available online.
Strategies and techniques for finding and researching genealogical records.
Types of Searches
Topic Search: When searching for information on a specific topic such as probate records, type the topic into the Search box. As you type, a list of pages with the topic word or words in the title appears below the Search box. If one of the listed pages is the desired topic, highlight and press enter. If you don’t pick from the drop-down list you will get a results list of every page that includes the topic.
Vital records Search: FamilySearch recommends using the Guided Search for info on vital records.
Location Search in the search box: When only the name of any country, state in the U.S., province in Canada, or county in England is typed in the Search box you will be taken directly to that Wiki page. For example: If Texas is searched the result is the Texas, United States Genealogy page.
Page Title: If you happen to know the exact title of the Wiki article you want, type it in the Search Box.
How to Overcome the #1 Search Problem
Many people will search for something like marriage records, Randolph, County, Indiana, and they will get a list of results. The results don’t look as clear-cut as Google results, and they may not all be on topic. This is where we can get lost. I think probably the number one reason why people give up on the wiki is they get these kinds of search results. They realize, wait a second, this isn’t even Indiana, it’s talking about Kentucky! Why am I getting all these? It can be frustrating.
This happens because we tried to do it ourselves, with our own keywords. Remember, like most search engines, they’ve indexed their content to make it searchable, so that means they’ve already decided how they want to talk about a particular topic. Rather than just addressing marriage record first, the wiki focuses on the location. Where is this marriage record? So, focus first on the place unless you are just looking for general information on a general genealogy topic such as genealogy software.
Pre-filled suggestions will appear as you type because the wiki is going to suggest what it has in the format it has it. Again, you may want to first go to the country, state or county-level page and then look for the record type.
If you’re looking for marriage records but you don’t see them listed it might be that the word marriage isn’t the keyword the wiki uses. Or it might be that the type of record you’re looking for is a state or federal record.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see what you want listed in the table of contents. It may just be a keyword issue. Let the work that they’ve already done in organizing their materials guide you. You’ll be more successful and also avoid frustration. The FamilySearch Wiki is just too good of a resource to miss.
Use Google site search to search using Google’s engine and search operators!
Generally speaking, the map is the best way to search for records and information that is rooted in a location. Start by clicking the button for the continent, such as North America. From there, select the county from the menu, such as United States, then drill down by state. This will take you to the Wiki entry for that state.
Location-based FamilySearch Wiki Pages
If you’re really new to research in a particular location, start with the guided research link on the location’s wiki page. You may also see links to research strategies, record finder, and record types.
Getting Started section – links to step-by-step research strategies and the most popular records.
The county pages are where the real magic happens because many records such as birth, marriage, death, and court records are typically available at the county level. There you’ll find out how to contact or visit the current county courthouse. Look for Boundary Changes on the page. Use your computer’s Find on Page feature by pressing Control + F (PC) or Command + F (mac) on your keyboard to more quickly find words like Boundary on the page.
Exploring Record Collection Pages
Many record collections have their own page on the Wiki. As you type, these pages will populate in the drop-down list. Example: German Census Records. Take a moment to read through the page and you’ll discover some important information that will save you time and headaches, such as:
When censuses were taken
National versus local censuses and their various levels
Censuses in areas where boundaries have changed over time
Various types of census forms we may encounter
The purpose behind the creation of census records in Germany
The kind of information we can expect to find in the German census
Other types of records containing similar information
Resource articles (including a handout from a past RootsTech)
Wiki articles describing online collections
There are a couple of actions we may want to take before going on to search for records. Here are a few:
Click on the Category to see what else is attached to this category – in this case we see some example images that are helpful in interpreting German census forms.
Click the Cite this page link in the left column if we plan to reference the page elsewhere.
Click Printable Version in the left column if we want a printable or PDF version of the page.
Explore related pages by clicking the What links here link in the column on the left. Notice it also shows if there are any other users watching the page.
Learn more about using Family Search
Videos at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:
National Archives (US) facilities are closing or restructuring in three locations. But steps are being taken to maintain access (local or online) to the
National Archives, Washington, D.C. Wikimedia Commons Image by Edbrown05.
treasure trove of research materials at these facilities.
A recent press release states, “As part of ongoing budget adjustments, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced the permanent closure of three National Archives facilities. This year, the National Archives facility in Anchorage, AK, will close and two facilities in the Philadelphia, PA, area will be consolidated to a single site. Within the next two years, two Archives’ facilities in Fort Worth, TX, also will be consolidated to a single site. These closures and consolidations will result in estimated annual cost savings of approximately .3 million.”
“The National Archives budget is devoted primarily to personnel and facilities, both of which are essential to our mission,” the Archivist stated. “I recognize these cuts will be painful; however, we are committed to continuing to provide the best service to our customers and best working conditions for our staff nationwide.”
Here’s the scoop on each of the affected locations:
National Archives – Anchorage, AK, facility closing:
The National Archives’ facility in Anchorage, AK, will close permanently in FY 2014. The employees who work there will be offered positions at other National Archives facilities, with the National Archives paying relocation expenses. The less than 12,000 cubic feet of archival records in Alaska will be moved to the National Archives at Seattle, WA, where the National Archives will digitize these records so that they remain available to Alaskans through the internet. In addition, we will move approximately 7,500 cubic feet of records center holdings to Seattle, WA.
National Archives – Philadelphia, PA, facility consolidation:
The National Archives currently maintains two facilities in Philadelphia—a records center and archives at Townsend Road, and a small “storefront” archival facility at 900 Market Street in the city center. These facilities are in the same commuting area, and archival records are currently moved between the two for research use. The Market Street facility will close in FY 2014, and those employees will move to Townsend Road or telework locations. The less than 5,000 cubic feet of archival records stored at Market Street will be moved to Townsend Road, where the majority of the archival records already are stored. The Townsend Road facility’s research room will be modified to better provide appropriate access to researchers, and community outreach programs will continue.
National Archives – Fort Worth, TX, facility consolidation:
The National Archives currently maintains two facilities in Fort Worth: a combined records center and archives at John Burgess Drive, and a smaller “storefront” facility at Montgomery Plaza. The National Archives will permanently close the Montgomery Plaza facility in FY 2016. All employees at the Montgomery Plaza location will move to John Burgess or telework locations. No original records are stored at Montgomery Plaza, and researchers will have continued access to archival records through the research room at John Burgess Drive.
What’s at National Archives facilities for family history researchers? Learn more here.
The US National Archives has signed agreements with FamilySearch and Ancestry to put more of the Archives’ unique genealogical treasures online. We think that’s worth shouting about!
The National Archives has been working with FamilySearch and Ancestry for years to digitize genealogical treasures from its vaults. Contracts have been signed to continue efforts with both partners to digitize even MORE genealogy records at the National Archives: MORE birth, marriage, death, immigration and military service records! Here are some highlights from the contract:
1. Partners will now “be able to post segments of large collections immediately, rather than waiting for the entire collection to be completed.” This sounds familiar to users of FamilySearch, which regularly dumps un-indexed chunks of digitized content onto its site just to make it available faster.
2. The updated agreement contains provisions to protect “personally identifying information.”
3. Ancestry will have a shorter time period (by 12-24 months) during which they have exclusive rights to publish the images together with the index. After that, the National Archives can put the material on its site and/or share it with other partners.
4. The National Archives “will continue to receive copies of the digital images and metadata for inclusion in its online catalog….Thepublic will be able to access these materials free of charge from National Archives research facilities nationwide [not online]. Ancestry.com makes the digitized materials available via subscription.”
What kind of data is already online from The National Archives?
FamilySearch and Ancestry already host digital images of millions of National Archives documents: U.S. federal censuses. Passenger lists. Border crossings. Naturalization records. Compiled military service records. Freedman’s Bank and Freedmen’s Bureau records (the latter are currently being indexed). Federal taxation records. And the list goes on! According to the press release, before these partnerships began, “many of these records were only available by request in original form in the research rooms of the National Archives.”
Click here to search all the National Archives content on Ancestry (more than 170 million images; subscription required to view).
Just in case you’re wondering (and I was wondering), The National Archives isn’t playing favorites with their partnerships. This list shows that a National Archives partnership is pending with Findmypast. They’re already working with Fold3. I wasn’t surprised to see the John F. Kennedy Library on their list, but I wouldn’t have guessed the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland!
Click to read more National Archives gems on our website:
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2
In Episode 34, Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, talked with me about the unique genealogical resources in public libraries just waiting to be discovered. She gave us some great ideas on how to prepare for your visit to get the most out of your time at the library.
Today, we go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Pat is back and she talks to us about:
How to search an online library card catalog, including advanced search methods;
What kinds of unique collections may be at public libraries, and helps us learn to ask for exactly what we want!
The obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.
So dust off your library card and grab your book bag and let’s head back to the public library!
Top Library Tips from Pat and Lisa
You don’t have to be advanced on computers to use advanced searches. Use these to home in clearly on what you’re looking for!
Don’t think of the public library as just as place to go look at their holdings. Talk to librarians about how to use resources (databases, websites) and how to evaluate what you’ve discovered.
Some items are buried at the library. Asking for help may lead to accessing just the records you want. Examples include items in pull-out collections, closed stacks (not in the public areas of the library) and maps, which aren’t always listed in the card catalogue.
Tell the staff what materials are important to you. Your interest may lead these items to become more accessible, or be indexed or digitized.
Separate your search terms in advanced searches. Don’t just keyword search “marriages San Francisco.” Enter these terms separately in the advanced search. You may bring up items not found while searching these keywords together.
A lot of local history and genealogy materials do not circulate through interlibrary loan. Some items are totally unique and people travel to that library to see it, so they don’t send it out. One option is to ask the librarian to check the index and table of contents, then scan or photocopy the pages of interest to you and send them. There may be a charge for this but it’s better than not being able to get the book at all!
Finally, don’t make assumptions. Particularly, Pat says, don’t assume that…
A small library doesn’t have much advanced technology;
A library resources only cover its immediate locale; and
If you can’t see it is not there! Ask about closed stacks.
Links for Public Libraries and Library Resources
WorldCat.org (to search for materials across multiple libraries)