A lot of the best information about our ancestors’ lives is buried in an archive–NOT indexed online! Melissa Barker explains what an archive is and how to find one that might reveal secrets from your family history.
International Archives Day is Friday, June 9! Genealogy Gems contributing archivist Melissa Barker tells us what an archive IS and how to find one.
Recently, I was asked “What is an archive?” I was a bit surprised by this question since it came from a genealogist. I thought all genealogists knew about archives!
What exactly is an archive?
An archive is defined by the Society of American Archivists as: An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations. The “organization” they are talking about could be any organization. It doesn’t have to be only a county archive, such as the Houston County, Tennessee Archive, or a state archives, like the California State Library and Archives. Archives include:
A historical society that collects and preserves local records is also considered an archive.
A genealogical society that accepts donations of family records is an archive.
A museum that has exhibits and displays may also have records collections and would be considered an archive.
Local public libraries that have genealogy rooms with records in them are archives.
The term “archive” is not solely used to represent a county or state archive. Any organization that accepts, collects and preserves historical and genealogical documents, records, memorabilia and artifacts is considered an archive, even if they don’t have the word “archive” in their title.
There are many different kinds of archives that can be accessed by genealogists. I always say, “There is an archive for everything.” Just because the building doesn’t have the word “archive” on it, don’t discount the fact that there is a “place” where there are historical and genealogical records being preserved or at the very least stored.
Tips for finding and visiting archives
The next time you are doing research on your ancestor in the area where they lived…
Ask around: There is always someone in the local area that knows the local history and knows many of the local families and most importantly; these people usually know where to find the records! This person may even be able to tell you about the family you are researching.
Ask around in the community, call the local library or the local Chamber of Commerce and ask, “Who is the local historian, who is the one knows about the families and history of the area?” I guarantee that you will be given a name. Ask where the records are stored or archived. Contact the local historical and/or genealogical society.
Be prepared to get dusty: There have been many times when I had arrived at the place where I was told the records were located. I was then shown a closet, the attic or basement and I was left to my own research devices to go through boxes and shelves of records. You have to ask the questions and you may even have to do some sleuthing in the local areas your researching in to locate the records.
Don’t leave any stone unturned. The records you are looking for could be sitting in boxes, archived or not, just waiting for you to find them. Remember: It’s not all online, contact or visit and archive today!
The Archive Lady, Melissa Barker shares a short archiving segment in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, available to Genealogy Gems Premium website members. Premium website members have access to the entire Premium Podcast archive of more than 200 episodes AND more than two dozen video classes by internationally-known genealogy educator Lisa Louise Cooke. Genealogy Gems Premium Membership offers so many fun and innovative ways to do genealogy! Click here and start enjoying it today.
DNA testing for adoptees (and others with unknown parentage) isn’t a last resort–use it along with other strategies to discover biological roots. Genetic genealogists CeCe Moore and Diahan Southard share five tips for getting started.
Not long ago, I chatted with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of The DNA Detectives about using DNA testing for adoptees. Here I summarize some tips she shared, along with some perspectives of my own and resources that can help your search for biological relatives.
Click here to listen to our chat:
DNA testing for adoptees: 5 tips
1. Start with available records. A lot of people of people are coming straight to DNA testing now without looking at any available records first. Adoptees should start by looking at state laws and seeing if they can get access to original birth certificates. Click here to read about access to adoption records (U.S.).
2. Take an autosomal DNA test. This test looks at both sides of a person’s biological family, mom and dad. Most people start by testing at AncestryDNA because it has the largest database of potential matches (over 4 million now!). If you don’t find a close match (at least a second cousin), you will want to transfer to both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage for FREE to expand your search radius. Males with unknown paternity should also take a YDNA test (at least at the 37-marker level) from Family Tree DNA.
3. Do your own adoption search. Sure, you can hire someone to help. But you should be invested in your own search when possible. You’ll likely get a much greater satisfaction out of it.
As with any kind of search you are doing for people who may still be living, proceed with care and try to keep your search as private as possible. Try first to contact the people who are most likely to know about you already, including your parents and grandparents. If you do discover a biological family buy ed medication member who may not know about you, please carefully consider the impact you may have on their lives by revealing information you have learned.
4. Become educated. Learn all the strategies you can for researching your biological roots. Read and read! Keep learning! The DNA Detectives Facebook group is about self-education, with members helping members work their own cases without a professional having to work each one. (You can also check out The DNA Detectives website.)
5. Keep your expectations flexible. CeCe Moore says, “The end result of an adoption search is positive most of the time. There are some stories where contact has been rejected by a birth relative, but they are in the minority. A positive outcome doesn’t necessarily mean a connection ora loving relationship with a birth parent, but perhaps with a birth sibling or cousin.”
Finally, I want to share this powerful statement from CeCe Moore on adoptee rights:
“I believe everyone has an equal right to learn about their heritage. There’s a whole class of people denied the joyful experience of building their biological family trees. Everyone deserves that knowledge. That doesn’t mean the birth family has to have a relationship. There’s a difference between knowing your heritage and having a relationship with the birth family. The adoptee deserves the knowledge of their origins.
But you can’t legislate a person to have a relationship with another person!”
Get the most from your DNA testing experience with my series of DNA quick guides, updated for 2018! Topics include:
“A true story of passion, family, and forgiveness in Southern Italy.” The subtitle to this family history murder mystery promises a LOT–and it delivers! It’s the new pick from the popular Genealogy Gems Book Club.
As a child, Helene Stapinski heard stories about her great-great-grandmother who fled Italy–with young children in tow–after being involved in a murder. Parts of the story were vague: who was killed? Why? When? How? Nobody knew. But other details were startlingly precise and consistent. She had to leave her husband behind. A man named Grieco helped her escape. A child was lost on the way to America.
Years later, Helene embarked on a 10-year quest to learn the truth behind this family legend. Her journey took her to Matera, Italy, “a province tucked away in the farthest reaches of Southern Italy…filled with such intense poverty that no one really liked to talk about it.” On her first trip, Helene got to know the region, some distant cousins, and a bit of local history–but came away with few answers about any actual murder. Other than that some of the locals didn’t want her prying into it.
But she didn’t give up.
And eventually, after traveling again to Italy, her determination and a small band of helpers led her finally to a 600-page criminal file from November of 1872.
It was true: there was a murder. But it wasn’t exactly as the family had said. In fact, the truth was SO different that Helene realized her family was not who she thought they were. And that meant Helene herself was not who she thought she was.
The rest, you can read for yourself in Helene’s new memoir, Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy. It’s part history, part re-imagined family story. It’s a story of poverty and power, love, tragic decisions, and a courageous and desperate woman’s leap for a new life across the ocean. Helene continues to unravel a past that she explored in her fantastic first family history memoir, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, an all-time favorite of mine. I read it again whenever I need a little boost of motivation to keep my own research going. Helene is so fantastic at telling her family stories within the bigger picture of the times they lived in–and her personal response reminds me how important my own family stories are to my own identity.
Watch below as Helene introduces us to her genealogical journey:
New to the Genealogy Gems Book Club?
The Genealogy Gems Book Club serves up delectable reading choices for family history lovers! You’ll find top titles from best-selling authors from around the world: novels and true stories about families, family relationships, the search for identity or fascinating times in history. Click here to see what’s been on the menu lately.
…And thanks for sharing this recommended reading with your genealogy buddies!
I’m excited to keynote Family Tree University’s Fall Virtual Genealogy Conference, September 15-17, 2017. Get three days of video presentations packed with DNA research strategies, the latest tech tools, organization and preservation tips, and MORE! Sign up by September 15, 2017 with our coupon code for off registration.
My grandmother was fond of saying, “The devil’s in the details.” I’m not sure about the devil’s current residence, but I do know that even the smallest details can add up to a really big picture. As genealogists, we’re all hunting for even the tiniest facts and features that will bring that picture into clear focus.
Family Tree University’s 2017 Fall Virtual Genealogy Conference (September 15-17) aims to help you discover and apply all those little details to your family history. With fifteen presentations ranging from DNA testing to research strategies, technology and preservation tools (and everything in between), you’ll gain a host of tricks for understanding your ancestors’ lives better. Some lectures focus on specific record sets, like Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton’s presentation on mining the U.S. census. Other classes help you reconstruct compelling ancestral stories; for example, Nancy Hendrickson’s “Resources for Visual Storytelling” and my own classes, “Time Travel Technology” and “5 Google Secrets Revealed.”
I’m tying all these virtual classes together with a live keynote presentation, “Big Pictures in Little Details,” on Sunday, September 17, after which I’ll do a brief, live Q&A.
The best part about the FTU virtual conference weekend: Not only can you participate from the comfort of your own home, but you won’t have to choose between presentations occurring at the same time. They’re all available to stream and download. So you can keep them and refer back long after the conference is over. Even my live keynote and Q&As will be recorded, so you won’t have to miss a thing!
Come join me for a fun-filled three days at the 2017 Fall Virtual Conference!
The FGS Webinar Series on Society Management has just been announced and it’s starting soon. This new free webinar series is focused on the leadership and management of non-profit societies. If you belong to a genealogical society you’ll want to let your leadership know about this opportunity from the The Federation of Genealogical Societies. Read on for more from FGS.
FGS Webinar Series Details
Press Release: July 12, 2017 – Austin, TX.
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announces the launch of their Society Management webinar series, scheduled to begin July 20, 2017. This series of free events will bring a much-needed aspect to the array of learning opportunities currently provided in the genealogical community, focusing solely on the leadership and management of non-profit societies.
The series will begin July 20, 2017 at 7:00pm central with a presentation by Fred Moss discussing The Open Death Records Initiative. The August session will feature David Rencher, CG, presenting on the best practices – and challenges – surrounding The Nominating Committee.
Each month thereafter will feature a new and interesting topic, ranging from recruitment and volunteer management to technology, publications, and working with your local tourism board. Registration will be necessary, and regular updates will be shared via the FGS Voice blog, FGS Voice Newsletter, and social media. Webinars will occur every 3rdThursday of the month.
Registration for the July program can be found here.
Speakers interested in presenting topics should contact Jen Baldwin, Education Chair, at email@example.com.
More Support for Genealogical Societies
Finding affordable quality programming is probably one of the biggest challenges genealogy societies face.
Genealogy Gems for Societies is an annual premium subscription service just for genealogical societies and groups* (such as libraries). This is a cost-effective way for your group to provide quality family history video presentations by internationally-renowned speaker Lisa Louise Cooke at your regular meetings.
With a society subscription, your group may show video recordings of Lisa’s most popular classes! This applies to group presentations for a single location, one video per event–but with more than a dozen 50-60 minute videos, several more 25-30 minute videos and a growing number of quick video tips (4-15 minutes), you’ll have plenty of video classes to show all year long! Click here to see a full list of videos available to societies. (Videos are not for individual use by society members.)
In addition, society subscribers receive:
Permission to republish articles from our extensive article archive in your society newsletter (your editor will LOVE this feature!)
10% discount for your society on live seminars by Lisa Louise Cooke
10% discountcode for your society members to use in the Genealogy Gems Store (details will be sent to your society membership email address after purchase)
BONUS: exclusive digital PDF ebook of a collection of Lisa’s most popular articles from Family Tree Magazine!Share this in the members-only section of your group’s website (or if you don’t have a members-only section, your Programming Director may keep it and enjoy).
All of this costs only $199.00 a year—about the cost of one typical webinar! Click here for more details and ordering information.
Please support your local genealogical society or group by sharing this post with them by email or social media. Thank you! You’re a Gem.