Genealogy Research Trip Produced Amazing Family History Find

We love the ease with which we can search online, but a genealogy research trip can offer exceptional and unique rewards. If you have been apprehensive about visiting a courthouse or archive,  follow our 4 step plan for a successful genealogy research trip that could lead to your own amazing discovery!

Genealogy Research Trip of the past

By J. D. Cress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am spoiled. Spoiled because I did not join the genealogy craze before the dawn of the internet and the power that using the Web brings to our family history research. I don’t know the pangs of writing 100+ letters to possible relatives and then waiting…waiting…and waiting to hear back from at least one!

In my genealogy world, if an answer can’t be found on one of my favorite genealogy website repositories (like FamilySearch, Ancestry, or Findmypast) then a quick Google search usually does the trick.

However, we new genealogists of the Internet era may be banking on the fact that “everything” we need is online. This is obviously not true. In fact, many local libraries and archives are under-staffed and under-funded making digitizing of their holdings difficult. This is why making a genealogy research trip is a really good idea.

The Unprepared Genealogy Research Trip

Several years ago, I made my first research trip. I was woefully unprepared. On a whim, I drove three hours on a weekday to “go to the courthouse.” I arrived at lunch time…and it was closed for an hour. Sigh. However, a nice receptionist suggNewspaper genealogy research tripested I go to the local public library just down the street.

When I arrived at the tiny corner building, I asked at the circulation desk for the history department. She seemed a little taken back, but said, “We have a little room in the basement with some local history and genealogy things.” Note to self: not all libraries are large enough for a “history department.”

In the basement room, no one was on duty, but a nicely printed instruction sheet of what was available and how to use their files laid on the table. “I guess I just dig in,” I thought, and off I went.

Though this was my first genealogy research trip, it proved to be very fruitful. In a scrapbook simply titled “Walls Family,” I found a Xerox
copy of an article from an 1874 newspaper. In this article, my fourth great-grandmother (Susannah Harmarson Walls) had been interviewed because she was the oldest living woman in the township. Her interview began, “I was born in Delaware. The exact year, I do not know, but I suppose I will be 86 years of age on the 16th of July next. My father’s name was Levin Harmarson. He died when I was only three years of age. My mother’s name was Mary Woodard.”

The interview included the story of her mother re-marrying, the family leaving Delaware for Wheeling, Virginia, and she marrying her step-brother there. Then, they traveled on into Scioto County, Ohio. She named each of her eleven children and their spouses.

The information in this one interview was particularly helpful. Before this, we had no idea when or where Susannah and Levi married, and finding the spouses of their children had proved difficult!

Though this was an amazing find, I wonder what other records, items, or photographs I might have dug up had I prepared ahead of time. Perhaps, I would have had time to dig more into their microfilm holdings, archived pictures, atlases, or even had time to go to the local cemetery.

The Prepared Genealogy Research Trip

Fast forward several years and I am making much more prepared genealogy research trips. Get the most from your next genealogy research trip by following these 4 important steps:

1. Run a Narrative Report. Start creating your genealogy research trip plan by printing out a narrative report of your targeted family line. This can be done with the reports feature found in genealogy database programs like RootsMagic.

2. Look for holes in your research. Carefully read through the report looking for holes in your research or where you may be missing a source. In this case, a “hole in your research,” may be the missing marriage date of a couple, or the missing birth date of a child. Circle these “holes” and make a list of what the needed piece of information is to correct it and where you can find it.

Example: Clark County, Ohio. Need a death date for Edmund West. County didn’t keep death records that early. Likely died between 1830-1840. Check probate record books, estate files, tax records, cemetery records, and tombstones at Wilson Cemetery.

Maybe you have a birth date, but no source. A source is the proof of a particular fact. For example, a good source for a birth date is a birth register or even a marriage record. If you are lacking sources for your genealogy facts or are not sure how to begin sourcing your genealogy, learn more about that here.

3. Decide what repositories you will need to visit. After creating your list, determine where these items are held by asking yourself important questions, such as: Will I need to visit the courthouse, a library, an archive, cemetery, or all the above? Which location will produce the most results? Should I visit the archives first, or the courthouse?

4. Contact each repository ahead of time. Finding out the days and times when each of these places is open before you go is a must! Try to pick a day when all, or most, of the places are open so that you can get a lot done. If this isn’t possible, consider making an extended stay overnight to accomplish your goals.

Keep in mind that not all websites are up-to-date. Just because the library says it is open from 10 to 5 every day but Sunday on the webpage doesn’t necessarily mean that is still the case. Always call each establishment to verify days and hours of operation.

10 items for the genealogy research trip

Remember, there are newspapers, maps, documents, and pictures just waiting to be uncovered. By thinking about what you want to achieve while on your trip and what information you need to find and where, your genealogy research trip can be a successful one. Happy hunting!

More on Genealogy Research Trips

Still feeling unmotivated to get on the road, read or listen to these features for inspiring tips to make a courthouse records research trip in your near future!

Courthouse Records Research TripGenealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and Website

Premium Podcast Episode 126 – Road Trips for Genealogy

Premium Video – Using Evernote to Create a Genealogy Research Plan

Remembering 9-11, And Why You May Recall It So Clearly

Sixteen years ago, nearly 3,000 people died in events so horrific that the date itself has been seared into world memory: “9-11.” Today, we remember those who suffered on September 11, 2001. And we explain why many can recall that day with startling clarity: it’s a “flashbulb memory,” the kind that produces lasting, vivid impressions in our minds.

flash bulb memories

Remembering 9-11

Me with my new little baby Jeremy, a month after the September 2001 attacks.

Sixteen years ago today, I was sitting at my desk in a research office at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio when a co-worker informed me that airplane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Within minutes, someone had set up a television in our common area. So several of us were watching the news when another plane hit the second tower–and we realized this wasn’t a horrible mistake. It was an attack.

I responded instinctively, calling my husband at work and then my babysitter to check on my two-month old infant, Jeremy. As the general panic and confusion rose, I couldn’t think of anything but my baby. Before long, I left the office, swooped up my son from the babysitter’s house and fled the city. I drove toward my home in the suburbs, glancing up at the Cleveland skyline constantly, not knowing whether our city would also come under attack.

Gradually I learned, along with the rest of the world, about the full scope of the attack, the losses of thousands of lives and the heroism of those who helped others in harm’s way. I felt a little foolish for having seized little Jeremy and run when there was no actual danger to us. But that protective urge I felt was so powerful that I still remember it clearly, 16 years later, as my personal response to a day the world changed forever.

Why We Recall 9-11 So Vividly

Several years later, while researching the nature of our memories for the first edition of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy, I learned about “flashbulb memories:”

“Flashbulb Memories are memories for the circumstances in which one first learned of a very surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) event. Hearing the news that President John Kennedy had been shot is the prototype case. Almost everyone can remember, with an almost perceptual clarity, where he was when he heard, what he was doing at the time, who told him, what was the immediate aftermath, how he felt about it, and also one or more totally idiosyncratic and often trivial concomitants.” -Roger Brown and James Kulk in Cognition (Vol 5, Issue 1, 1977, pages 73-99; quoted from this abstract online)

In other words, surprising and life-altering events can leave vivid and lasting impressions in our minds, like the bright flash of an old-fashioned camera flashbulb that captures a moment forever. Kennedy’s assassination and 9-11 are just two examples. What others come to mind for your own lifetime? For example, I recall with startling clarity the moment a teacher burst into my middle school classroom in 1986 to tell us that that Challenger shuttle had exploded in mid-air with school teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard. I recall other moments of personal significance with that kind of clarity, too. It doesn’t have to be a world-altering event to produce a flashbulb memory–just one that affects your world.

Write your memories down

Write Your Memories Before They Fade

Recently, I read that our flashbulb memories don’t remain as bright or crisp as the moment they were captured. Psychology Today reported a 10-year study of people’s memories of 9-11.

“All survey participants still had memories of how they found out about the event, who they were with, what they were doing, how they felt, the first person they talked to and what they were doing before finding out about the attack. That means that all of the survey participants had memories that would quality as a flashbulb memory. They were generally highly confident in the memory as well.

Despite their memory confidence, when the details of their memories were compared to the initial survey taken within 10 days of 9/11, there were significant inconsistencies. A year after the event, only about 2/3 of what people remembered was accurate.” – Art Markman, PhD (click here for full article)

Now, remembering even two-thirds of an event after a year has passed is quite good. And that accuracy remained strong for 10 years. The same report states, “By 10 years after 9/11, people were still about 60% accurate. Thus, although flashbulb memories are not like videos of the event, they are probably more accurate than memories for most events that took place 10 years before.”

What are your flashbulb memories? Write them down. Try to be as accurate as possible: return in your mind not to the last time you told that memory, but to the actual experience of it. Walk yourself through it slowly. Why? The Psychology Today article includes this warning: “If someone added an incorrect detail into their memory for the event, that misinformation was likely to be repeated in later accounts rather than corrected. This suggests that one reason why flashbulb memories remain so vivid for people is that they are recalled over time. Extra information that emerges when someone recalls a memory can get incorporated into that memory later.”

This is also an excellent reason to write down your memories as soon as possible after all important events in your life. Your recollections of even your most precious and positive events will fade. So if you want to keep hold of more than 60% of that once-in-a-lifetime trip you just took, write it down as soon as possible. Even if time has already passed, go ahead and write them down. Then use memory-jogging exercises to flesh them out, and do a little research to confirm hazy details. In my book, Story of My Life, I include these strategies along with hundreds of writing prompts to get your memories flowing. Note: Recalling particularly traumatic events may most safely and productively be done with the guidance of a professional counselor.

If you haven’t already done so, why not take some time today to write your own memories of a “flashbulb event” or another important memory in your life? You may learn something from doing so, as I did about the strength of my own maternal instincts on 9-11. Or you may simply find the walk down memory lane to be meaningful, full as it is with loved ones, lessons and life experiences.

What I Believe We Must Do as Family Historians Today

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Santayana in The Life of Reason, 1905

One of the most important jobs we will have as family historians is passing on to the next generation our memories of September 11, 2001.

I’ll never forget my daughter Lacey calling me from the top of the stairs on that morning. She was listening to the radio as she prepared for school. “Mom,” she said, “I think you better turn on the TV. Something is happening.”

And like so many in America and around the world, I turned on the TV only to be glued to it into the wee hours of that night, devastated by the evil appearing on the screen.

The quote at the beginning of this article is often mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill, but in fact, his statement to the House of Commons on May 2, 1935 after the Stresa Conference was even more thorough and extremely compelling:

SNAG_Program-0286

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong-these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

Learning from history and passing it on is key to our survival, as families, and as freedom-loving countries.

On this September 11 let’s pull our children and grandchildren close and be brave enough to share the reality of our experience. We, and future generations, need to remember.

God Bless America,
Lisa

Free App, E-Book Celebrate Constitution Day

Today the United States celebrates Constitution Day! On this date in 1787–225 years ago–delegates finalized and signed the historic document that became the U.S. Constitution.

In celebration, the National Archives Center for Legislative Archives has launched a free mobile app, e-book and even companion tools for teachers: lesson plans and teaching activities.

“Congress Creates the Bill of Rights” is described at the National Archives website, where you can download the e-book and teaching resources. The e-book is also available in iTunes and the iBookstore for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The app is available for download on iPad at the App Store.

A press release describes the app as “an interactive learning tool for tablets that lets the user experience the proposals, debates, and revisions that shaped the Bill of Rights in the First Congress. Its menu-based organization presents a historic overview, a one-stop source that includes the evolving language of each proposed amendment as it was shaped in the House and the Senate, a close-up look at essential documents, a ‘time-lapse’ display of the creation of the First Amendment, and more.

Congress Creates the Bill of Rights eBook presents a historic narrative focusing on James Madison’s leadership role in creating the Bill of Rights and effectively completing the Constitution. Starting with the crises facing the nation in the 1780s, the narrative traces the call for constitutional amendments from the state ratification conventions, and takes the reader inside Congress as the House and the Senate worked to formulate a set of amendments to send to the states.”

Did you have ancestors who were at the Constitutional Convention? Contribute what you know at the Signers of the U.S. Constitution Project at Geni.com. The goal of this project is to build “single, documented profiles” of those who signed.

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU