New to podcasts? Read Frequently Asked Questions(about the podcasts, how to listen and how to subscribe for free.) Welcome to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast, a 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. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 1: GettingStarted. Special Guest: Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the Oakland, California Family History Center. Her own family history journey started in her 20s with a visit to a relative’s house. She didn’t even know what to talk about! But it was a start. Years later, she visited the Northern Ireland home of her great-grandmother, and felt like she’d come home. Learn her tips for getting started and two inspiring stories of “genealogy serendipity.” Then you’ll learn why choosing a database for your family tree is your first essential step. Hear about some of my favorite databases—both free resources and products you can pay for. Don’t spend too much time fussing about software: I’ll tell you why you should just pick something and go with it.
Episode 2: Interviewing Skills. Special Guest: Cath Madden Trindle, a well-known family history instructor and certified genealogist. Cath talks about discovering dysfunction in her family (don’t we all have that?) and the new appreciation she gained for her family as a result. She also gives us some great tips on how to share what we find. Then we’ll talk about interviewing your relatives. That’s an important skill for any genealogist—beginner or more advanced—because you’ll need to interview people over and over again. Hear about you who you should interview, what to ask and how to ask it! You’ll also learn two important traps to avoid that will save you a lot of time and keep you from losing everything you learn.
Episode 3: Working Backwards, and Social Security Death Index. Special Guest: Miriam Robbins, a well-known genealogy blogger and teacher. She shares her best research tips, what motivates her to delve into her family history and how that discovery has enriched her life. In our second segment we answer the question “Why do we work backwards in genealogy?” and then fire up the Internet and go after your first genealogical record. We’re going to dig into the U.S. Social Security Death Index.
Episode 4: Conference and Vital Records.Special guest is the longtime online news anchorman of genealogy, Dick Eastman, the author of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. He talks about the changing industry and the benefits of attending genealogy conferences. Next, you’ll learn the ins and outs of using some “vital” sources for U.S. birth and death information: delayed birth records, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and Social Security applications (SS-5s) and death certificates.
Episode 5: Unlocking the Past and Home Sources. Special guest is genealogy author and publisher David Fryxell. I’m going to be talking to him about locating valuable family resources and the importance of being tenacious in your research. Then in our second segment we’re going to help you along on your own genealogy journey by talking about the importance of scouring your home for family clues and creative and effective ways to get the words out to your relatives so that family history information finds you!
Episode 6: Sleuthing Techniques and Genealogical Records. A genealogy writer and educator talks to us about sleuthing Sherlock Holmes-style for our families. He says, “Stop looking for names and start looking for families!” Then I’ll give you an overview of the different kinds of historical records in which our ancestors may appear. Whenever a life event happened that involved the government or a church, paperwork was generated: vital records, land sales, wills and probates, baptisms and burials. There is often a ripple effect in which the event was reported in other sources, like newspapers. In future episodes, we’ll talk in depth about finding and using these different kinds of sources. But consider this episode your orientation to them!
Episode 7: Best Genealogy Websites Part 1. Special guest: Lisa Alzo, popular genealogy lecturer and writer (now the author of nine books and online genealogy instructor at Family Tree University and the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. We talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned in her genealogical journeys (which include international travel in Eastern Europe). Then we tackle an essential topic: the best subscription websites for genealogical data. This is a two-part topic: in this episode I talk about sites that require payment to access their core content. In Episode 8, we’ll talk about the fantastic free websites that are out there.
Episode 8: Best Genealogy Websites Part 2. In a follow up to last week’s episode about subscription genealogy records website, in my first segment our guest is Yvette Arts, Director of Content Partnerships at World Vital Records. She tells us about exciting developments at the website that have helped make it a success. In our second segment we look at five organizations that provide free online access to genealogy records for those with North American roots: FamilySearch, the National Archives of the United States, Ellis Island Foundation, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada.
Episode 9: Using Census Records.Let’s talk about a group of records critical to U.S. family history research: U.S. Federal Census Records. You’ll learn not only what to find in the regular schedules, but about the enumerators, the instructions they followed, and special sections like the economic census. Then we go straight to the source: Bill Maury, Chief of History Staff at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’ll be talking to him about the History section of the Census Department’s website. Note the updated Genealogy tab on the site, as well as the Through the Decades tab, which is packed with historical information for each census.
Episode 10: Deeper into Census Records. We continue exploring U.S. Federal Census Records. Last episode we located relatives in the 1930 census, and today we’re going to push further back in time to follow the census bread crumb trail. We even explore some census enumerations that often go overlooked by family historians with Curt Witcher, the Manager of the nationally-recognized Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Curt has some great tips for tapping in to more obscure census resources. We’ll talk about nonpopulation schedules for the federal census, census substitutes for missing census data (like the 1890 census) and state censuses that may be available, too.
Episode 11: Census Wrap-Up: Decade-by-Decade to 1790. We welcome back genealogy researcher, author and lecturer Lisa Alzo. The author of Three Slovak Women, Baba’s Kitchen and Finding Your Slovak Ancestors talks about discovering family traits and putting them in perspective. Then we wrap up our three-episode coverage of U.S. census records with a decade-by-decade overview of censuses from 1880 back to 1790. We talk about special schedules taken during one or more censuses: mortality, slave, social statistics and supplemental, agricultural, manufacturing and the DDD (Defective, Dependent and Delinquent) schedules.
Episode 12: Post an Online Family Tree. In this episode we focus on posting your family tree online. There’s no use in re-inventing the research wheel! By posting what you know about your family tree online you can easily connect with others who are researching people in your family tree. You can share information, collaborate and even get to know distant relatives.
Episode 13: Genetic Genealogy and Photo-Sharing. Episode 13 reviewed genetic genealogy and photo sharing products that are either now longer offered or are outdated. This episode is not being republished with the series. Click on the show page anyway to see some updated suggestions and links to some of the top services for genetic genealogy and photo sharing.
Episode 14: How to Contact Long-Lost Relatives. Connecting with someone who knows about our ancestors can really boost our research results—and even create new relationships among living kin. But it’s not always easy to send that first email or make that first call. In this episode, we chat with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has mastered the art of “genealogical cold calling” by conducting hundreds of telephone interviews. She has a knack for quickly connecting with folks she doesn’t know over the telephone in ways that put them at ease and bring to light the information that she’s looking for.
Episode 15: More Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives. In today’s episode we talk more about “genealogical cold calling” with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has conducted hundreds of telephone interviews. Relationships are key to genealogical success and by following 14 genealogical cold calling strategies you will find your research relationships multiplying.
Episode 16: The Family History Library Catalog. In this episode we get acquainted with the largest repository of genealogy materials in the world: The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s free and available to the public and I’m going to get you ready to make good use of it through the online Family History Library catalog (and its companion collection of digital records). Podcast guest Don R. Anderson, Director of the Family History Library, describes the evolving direction of the Family History Library and its host site, FamilySearch.org.
Episode 17: Using Family History Centers, Part 1.This episode is the first of a series in which we answer questions about Family History Centers (now also known as FamilySearch Centers), the regional satellite facilities of the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. When I’m done with you, you won’t have a single excuse left for hesitating to use these wonderful family history research resources! My guest is Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the Oakland Family History Center in Oakland, California. In this episode she introduces us to the Family History Center, walks us through the process for ordering and using microfilm and discusses the wide range of resources at local Family History Centers. Even if you’ve already been to a Family History Center, you’re still going to learn some new things along the way!
Episode 18: Using Family History Centers, Part 2.Margery Bell returns to the show to keep talking about using Family History Centers. She preps us for our visit to a local center and reveals the subscription websites you can use for free while you’re there. Margery discusses making copies in all forms, the future of digitizing microfilm, and the future of Family History Centers. We also talk about tips for visiting the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Episode 19: Using Family History Centers, Part 3.In this final episode on Family History Centers, Margery Bell talks about the educational opportunities available through Family History Centers, including the new online Wiki. Margery gives us her Top 7 Tips for getting the most out of your visit to a Family History Center. Finally, she inspires us with some stories of genealogical serendipity that she has experienced over her many years working at Family History Centers.
Episode 20: The Genealogical Proof Standard.In this episode we talk about the Genealogical Proof Standard, or GPS. My guest is Mark Tucker, a software architect and avid genealogist. Mark gives us an overview of the GPS and tells us how he got started using it. Then he shares a cool mapping tool he created to help us use the GPS. We’ll wrap by talking about how the GPS map can be effectively used for breaking down your research brick walls.
Episode 21: RootsMagic and Irish Genealogy Research. Lacey Cooke guest-hosts this double-feature episode on two big topics in family history: RootsMagic genealogy software and how to get started in Irish research. Bruce Buzbee, president and founder of RootsMagic Genealogy Software, talks about his industry-leading software. We also welcome Irish genealogy expert Judith Wight to talk to us about how to find those elusive Irish ancestors! Listen for her tips on finding Church of Ireland records, civil registrations, estate records and how history helps us understand gaps in the records.
Episode 22: Legend Seekers. Did you ever catch the PBS documentary Legend Seekers? It aired in 2009 and is now classic genealogy TV. Executive producer Ken Marks joins us on this episode of the podcast. He talks about the unique approach of this show for its time: the family history stories he brought to life were from everyday folks (not movie stars or rock stars) who have some very extraordinary stories in their family tree. Then Ken talks about the genealogical serendipity that he has his crew found themselves tapping into throughout the production.
Episode 23: Using the Genealogical Proof Standard. We put the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS – see Episode 20) into practice with an example from my own research. Researching by these standards now saves us time and work, and also from making avoidable mistakes. Some downloadable free tools that will help you use the GPS. In this episode we also follow up with a listener question on how to export your family tree from Ancestry.com.
Episode 24: Using Marriage Records in Family History. Two types of marriage records are discussed in this episode: civil and church. Learn some great tips for finding and using U.S. marriage records, as well as the different types of government documents that might exist.
Episode 26: Using Church Birth Records in Family History Research. We finish up this two part series by talking about church birth records. Helping us in the hunt again is Arlene Eakle, PhD. Check out the show notes on the episode page for exciting updates to the original conversation–including how to chase down (online!) the original source of material in the International Genealogical Index.
Episode 27: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1.Newspapers offer such a unique perspective on history in general, and our ancestors specifically. In this first in another 2-part series, Jane Knowles Lindsey at the California Genealogical Society shares top tips for finding historical newspapers.
Episode 28: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 2. In this episode, Jane Knowles Lindsay shares inspiring stories about the kinds of family items she’s found in newspapers. She offers a dozen more fantastic tips on researching old newspapers. You can find everything from birth, marriage and death announcements, to school and club event, crime stories, land transactions, sports activities and just about any other activity that your ancestors were part of that made the news!
Episode 32: Organize Your Genealogy Files, Part 1. Learn from my tried-and-true system for organizing your genealogy materials on your hard drive. First we talk organization–anyone can do it! there’s no magical gene for it–and then we talk some specifics: creating surname file folders and other types of file folders you’ll want for genealogy purposes.
Episode 33: Organize Your Genealogy Files, Part 2. The second in a series on organizing your genealogy materials on your computer. This episode walks you through a system for organizing family history on your hard drive. Creating a series of genealogy file folders, filenames you can find easily, where to file photos and other tips are here.
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik talks to us about researching at public libraries. She shares what kinds of things may be at the library (including unique resources), how to prepare for a visit and lots of great tips for making the most of your research time there.
Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2. We go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik is back to talk about how to search an online library card catalog including advanced search methods, the unique collections that may be at public libraries, how to ask for exactly what we want, and the obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.
Episode 36: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 1. This episode is all about YOU! It is made up completely of your emailed questions, comments and stories. I couldn’t do this podcast without you, and I definitely want it to be a two way conversation. Joining me on today’s episode to read your emails is my daughter, Lacey Cooke.
Episode 37: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2. More Q&A with you! Topics include: downloading all the podcasts at once; keeping old family group sheets; how to know when records and indexes are complete; Google Alerts; comment on FamilySearch digital books collection; how to pronounce “genealogy” and who plays the music on the podcast.
Episode 38: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 1. The Footnote Maven, author of two popular blogs, joins us to talk about the process of starting a genealogy blog. She gives great tips for thinking up your own approach, finding a unique niche, commenting on other people’s blogs and more. This is a fascinating inside look into the geneablogging community, whether you’re interested in starting your own or not!
Episode 39: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 2. This week we continue to explore of family history blogging. In this episode I interview TWO more successful genealogy bloggers, Denise Levenick (author of The Family Curator and alter ego of “Miss Penny Dreadful” on the Shades of the Departed blog) and Schelly Tallalay Dardashti (author of the Tracing the Tribe blog).
Episode 42: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 5.In this concluding episode to the 5-part blogging series, I talk about adding a few more gadgets and details, pre-planning your blog posts, publishing your first article, and how your readers will subscribe. You’ll also get great tips on how to create genealogy content that others looking for the same ancestors can find easily online.
Episode 43: The Julian Calendar and Genealogy. If you’re not familiar with how the calendar has changed through history, you might be recording incorrect dates in your family tree! In this episode, Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the RegionalFamily History Center in Oakland, Californiahelps us understand the “double-dating” we see in old documents and translate those dates from the Julian calendar to today’s Gregorian system.
Episode 44: Family Secrets in Genealogy.Today’s episode is unlike any other I’ve done on the podcast. We are going to tackle some difficult subject matter: family secrets in genealogy. None of us have a perfect family tree. In fact, at some point each one of us who are delving into our family’s past will likely come across some sad and painful stories. An ancestor abandoned at an asylum, incarcerated for acts of violence, or perhaps who committed suicide. Crystal Bell, my guest on today’s show shares her story of finding her mother.
Episode 45: Genealogy Blogs Started by YOU! The Podcast Listeners.In recent episodes of this podcast, we’ve been discussing how and why to create a genealogy blog. In this episode I’m going to share some of the family history blogs that YOU—the listeners—have created. I’m hoping you’ll be inspired to blog by what others are doing, or that you’ll take note of any blogs that can help you or perhaps are relevant to your own family history. Being a community is what gives genealogists strengths and inspiration. Get your notepads out and get ready to jot down these terrific blogs!
The Genealogy Center: Elevenses with Lisa Episode 31
If you’re looking for a wide array of free online genealogical records for your family history, look no further than then Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s the second largest genealogy library in the country. In addition to the in-house collection, the Genealogy Center offers a vast amount of free digitized resources through their website and partnerships with other websites.
I invited Allison Singleton, Senior Librarian at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana to the show. She is taking us on our tour of the website and sharing her tips and strategies for finding genealogy gems. Watch the video and follow along the highlights with the show notes below:
What is the Genealogy Center?
The Genealogy Center has one of the largest genealogy research collections available, incorporating records from around the world. The staff specializes in genealogy and is always available to help. Visit the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne Indiana.
There’s a lot to explore at the Genealogy Center website. Let’s start with the top-level menu on the Home page. Here we’ll find links to important resources such as:
Let’s take a closer look to a few in addition to other free resources available through the large colored buttons on the home page.
The Genealogy Community is the place to ask questions, sign up for their e-newsletter, and follow them on social media. They are extremely active on Facebook. You can also learn more about and get in touch with the staff of seasoned family history librarians.
PathFinders is a great place to start your family history search. It provides very small snapshots of what the Genealogy Center has in their collection for any given location or topic. Snapshot categories include:
Click on the logo from any page to return to the website’s Home page.
Free Databases at the Genealogy Center Website
The Genealogy Center does not interlibrary loan materials. Their collection is reference only. The website is the perfect place to plan your next visit. That being said, much of their invaluable collection has and is being scanned by Internet Archive and FamilySearch. If it is out of copyright, they work to get it online. So there’s plenty to find from the comfort of your own home.
You can find their Free Databases by clicking Resources on the home page and then Free Databases. These are all searchable and include digitized images that can be viewed from home.
In the Free Databases section you’ll find gateways to other specific areas including African-American and Native American. These provide an excellent place to start your research.
Free databases at the genealogy center
Family Bibles at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Family Bibles The Genealogy Center actively collects scans of family bible records pages.
Learn more about researching family Bibles for family history in Elevenses with Lisaepisode 29.
Watch episode 29 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn how to find and analyze your family bible for genealogy
You can donate more than just money to the Genealogy Center. They are also looking for research donations. Donating is a great way to make your genealogy research materials easily accessible to your family and other researchers. You’ll find Donations in the main menu on the Home page.
Donated digitized materials are freely available online on their website.
They are actively digitize records.
You can even bring your materials into the library and they will digitize them. You can then keep the originals.
You can also send in your own digitized scans.
Military Records at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Our Military Heritage They are actively collecting military information for inclusion in their collection. The collection includes many unique items donated by other family historians.
Copyright and Usage
The materials on their website are under copyright. You can view one page at a time. However, you can copy and print like you would if you were visiting the library. Include a source citation including the donor name. If in doubt about usage, contact the Genealogy Center.
Searching for Genealogy Center Content
The website is new (in 2020) so Google may not pick up everything in search. Use the website search field to search the entire collection.
Allison’s Catalog Search Tips:
When search the Allen County Public Library catalog, don’t use common words such as county and city.
Also, don’t use the plural form of words. For example, use directory not directories.
After running the search, on the left side of the page under “I only want” filter your results to only the Genealogy Center by clicking Branch and then
If an item is digitized, you will see a Web Link under More Info.
Lisa’s Search Tip: Use Control + F (PC) or Command +F (Mac) to quickly find words in a long list on a results page.
On-Site Databases at the Genealogy Center
You can only access on-site databases while in the library. No library card is required. The library does not offer an online subscription service.
Getting Help Online for Offline Resources
Navigation: On the homepage click Genealogy Community > Ask a Librarian. Here you can send brief questions and requests.
Family History Archives
Navigation: Click Family History Archives on the Home page and you’ll find links to other websites hosting Genealogy Center digitized content. Partners include:
FamilySearch (Public Access)
The Internet Archive (over 110,000 items)
Over 110,000 Free records at the Internet Archive from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
City Directories at the Genealogy Center
City Directories are a wonderful way to fill in information between census years. The Genealogy Center has the largest collection of city directories in the country. They are in both book form and microfilm.
The city directory collection cover across North American and even includes some international directories.
Compiled Family Histories at the Genealogy Center
Compiled family histories help you stand on the shoulders of other accomplished researchers. They have approximately 70,000 physical books. There are also family histories digitized and on the website. Search for the surname and include the word family. On the results page, filter down to Branch > Genealogy.
Free Consultations and Paid Professional Services
Navigation: Home > Our Services > Consultations. The Genealogy Center offers free (yes, you read that right!) 30-minute consultations with a Genealogy Center librarian. Consultations are held by Zoom, phone or email. You don’t even have to be a library card holder! Prepare well to get the most from your consultation.
You can also hire staff at the Genealogy Center to do more extensive research for you. Another option is to request a list of local professional researchers. Visit Our Services > Forms > Research Form
PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)
Navigation: Home > Our Resources > Onsite Databases > PERiodical Source Index (PERSI) PERSI offers a very wide range of periodicals, some of which are very unique and niche. The PERSI index is hosted by Findmpast. Search the index for free from home at Findmypast. Some of the items require a subscription.
Allison provided some excellent insider strategies for searching PERSI:
Articles are indexed by title.
Don’t search by keyword or “Who”.
Most people aren’t named in the article titles. Focus on location.
You can order the articles from the Genealogy Center. $7.50 for each form which includes up to six articles. Go to Our Services > Forms > Article Fulfillment.
Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.
On their website, the U.S. National Archives states their mission is to: “provide public access to Federal Government records in our custody and control. Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.” (Source: https://www.archives.gov/about/history/about/history/history-and-mission)
Shockingly, as of February 2022 the archives has not been fulfilling that mission for nearly two years! (Source: Visit each facility web page listed at https://www.archives.gov/locations)
Please share and help get the word out.
My guests Geoff Gentilini, President of the Archival Researchers Association, and Jessica Taylor president of the international genealogy research firm, Legacy Tree Genealogists explain:
Geoff Gentilini is the president of the Archival Researchers Association. He is a professional researcher specializing in military records, individual veteran searches, unit histories, and family history research. He is the owner and project manager of Golden Arrow Research. In 2011, Geoff devised a unique process to rebuild the service histories of individual WWI, WW2 & Korean War veterans whose personnel records were lost in the 1973 archives fire. His work has enabled thousands of descendants to gain a better understanding of their ancestors’ military service. He is the president of the Archival Researchers Association, an organization that has been instrumental in advocating (to Congress) for an increase in the budget of the National Archives.
Jessica M. Taylor serves as president of international genealogy research firm, Legacy Tree Genealogists, and as a board member for the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Genealogy Business Alliance, and the Association of Genealogy Educators and Schools. With a degree in Family History – Genealogy and over 20 years of experience, Jessica loves contributing to the genealogy community and pushing the industry forward to better help others discover their roots.
The Scope of the Records at the National Archives
Lisa: Can you give our audience a quick overview of the scope of the records that are housed at the National Archives?
Geoff: There are about 46 facilities, including 15, presidential libraries, 14 archives, 17, federal record centers, and these are spread out across the country. They contain more than 13 billion textual records, 20 million photographs, 40 million aerial images, there’s 75,000 miles of film. These records tell our national story. The holdings are massive.
Today, something like 1% of this material is online. Researchers access the other 99% of these records in our nation’s public research rooms, which are scattered across the country.
I think the National Archives has the goal of digitizing somewhere near 3% of these records by the year 2024. But as we all know, just because something is digitized, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be online or usable for research.
Jessica: The first time he said, you know, 99% of the records are digitized, I said “no way, there’s no way that that could be true.” So he sent me information that’s put up by the archives, and I did the math. And I said, “Holy cow, you know, it’s absolutely true.” There are records there that you can’t get any other way, besides going in person to get those records.
Lisa: I did an entire hour show on the National Archives website last year, and it got on my radar as well, that as wonderful as the site is, and it’s got some access to some things, it’s such a tiny fraction! This means there’s a treasure trove remaining, but you have to access it in person.
Jessica, that leads us to the research rooms because that’s where we gain access to the records. What and where are the research rooms? And who uses them?
Jessica: There are 14 National Archives research rooms spread around the country. Washington, DC has a major one. There’s one nearby in College Park, Texas, a few on the West Coast, one in Missouri. So they’re spread out throughout the country.
Each one of these research rooms has different records. So, like we said, they’re all paper still, and in different facilities. If you want a certain type of record, you have to go to that facility to get it.
The people who use these research rooms are obviously genealogists, that’s my primary interest in them, historians, authors, filmmakers, and lots of use for veterans. There are educators, students, I mean, there are so many groups who need these records and have been on hold.
I have a friend who is working on a book that she’s had to put on hold for two years because she needs the information that’s in one of the archives. She can’t complete the book until the archives opens.
The Impact of the Research Rooms Closures
Lisa: Geoff, I know that you work a lot at the National Archives in St. Louis, can you explain to our audience the significance of that particular location, and its closure, and particularly on veterans? How are they affected?
Geoff: The Research Room in St. Louis is really special because it contains the personnel records and military records that tell the story of the men and women who served in the armed forces. These are records from World War I, World War II, the Korean War all the way up through Vietnam, and later.
Many living veterans and veterans’ advocates rely on researchers to work on these more complex research cases. They help to reverse denied benefits claims in many cases. This type of work has been stalled for two years!
From the historical record side of things, this is the work that I used to do primarily in St. Louis. I would rebuild the service histories, the individuals whose records were lost in the 1973 fire, primarily veterans of World War II but also World War I, and the Korean War. Families who really knew nothing about their loved ones service could gain closure by understanding their contribution to the war effort.
This research in St. Louis also helps to do things like correct grave markers for veterans and locate the remains of fallen soldiers who were lost on the battlefield.
At this point, there hasn’t even been a minimal reopening in St. Louis, the way that there was at some other research locations.
Lisa: You’re talking about veteran records. I imagine that people are trying to verify benefits. Don’t you guys work with people who volunteer to help veterans get the records they need so that they can apply for their benefits or is that stalled?
Geoff: Yeah. There is a massive backlog right now of requests that come in from veterans and their families for DD 214 records. These are like the military discharges that you can use to when you’re seeking benefits to get a home loan and things like that. What has happened is that the historical research portion of the archives there has not been reopened, because of that enormous backlog. But at this point, it’s been two years, and they’ve sort of locked the doors. But that that backlog is still growing. The St. Louis Research Room is also a smaller Research Room, and we believe it can be reopened by leaving a smaller footprint.
Lisa: Jessica, can you give us a sense of the financial impact of these closings on the people who rely on access to the research rooms for their work?
Jessica: When when COVID first hit in 2020, and they were closed, that’s the time period when I got in contact with Geoff. What drew me to trying to help his organization initially was people like Geoff who are completely out of work. Their businesses revolve around access to archives, to the National Archives, to specific facilities in specific regions. And so, I thought, wow, I’ve got to help them be able to work again, right?
So we’ve tried and now two years have gone by, and I just can’t imagine how these people are faring. Because they’ve been out of work for two years. I just talked with somebody on LinkedIn who reached out about this petition, and he was so thankful that we have this petition and said, “Well, I’ve been so frustrated. I was actually told, you know, shame on me for building my business model around relying on the National Archives.” And I thought wow, how sad that we can’t rely on the National Archives to open. It just hurts my heart. I mean, beyond that, there is this author I mentioned who is trying to finish her book can’t finish it. It’s been two years!
And of course, we have many clients who have ordered genealogical research that we can’t finish. Many have asked for refunds, because two years is a long time to wait for something like this. So unfortunately, it definitely has had an impact in the genealogy industry and other industries as well.
Geoff: The work that we do is important work. It’s specialized skills, too. And after two years, we’re starting to see our colleagues quit and move on to other things, because how long can you sustain yourself without being able to access these records that enable you to do your job? So that that’s something else too. It’s a loss for the public. We’re losing the expertise and the people that help to tell these stories by accessing these records.
Will the National Archives Reopen?
Lisa: Let’s talk about the reopening because right now, we’ve looked at two full years of closure and lack of access. I was doing some research in anticipation of getting together and talking today and I was looking at what the National Archives is saying about their policy and what they call high, medium and low risk. Even if the risk is considered low, they’re not saying full reopening. They’re talking about appointments and screenings and things.
I know that David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, put out a letter, the most recent one I could find was November 8 of 2021. He says “at low transmission level staff will be on site to complete all types of work, and research rooms are expected to remain open by appointment only.”
Geoff, does that sound like an organization that’s planning on and anxious to get back to full time access?
Geoff: Yes, well, it certainly sounds like a difficult system for someone who would need to be able to do their job five days a week and get in there and really access these records in the way that we need to, to do our jobs. We really are trying to look past that. The restrictions, until we can get back to a level of normalcy, at least in the level of access to records, the sliding scale system with the case rates, and how they open and close. This appears to be how the federal government has structured things for the agencies that fall underneath of the executive branch, the IRS, and the Social Security Administration. Some of this is out of the hands of the archives management.
Other things we think they might be able to do when they do open to kind of prioritize the research rooms and get them back to functioning at pre pandemic levels. That’s really what we’re seeking. We kind of feel like where there’s a will there’s a way. And when 99% of the records that you work with are physical, it really demands that you have the staff and be open to meet that public demand.
Lisa: I noticed on the petition website, which we are going to talk about, there is a way that our viewers can help try to get the message forward to those in power to make a different decision and maybe open this up.
One of the things that’s interesting is that the museum in the Washington DC area is open. It’s in the same building as the research rooms, and those are closed.
Geoff, have they told you anything about ‘here’s the mark, here’s the goalpost? When this happens, we will welcome you all back.’ Do you have any sense of what that place is?
Geoff: I think that the pandemic has been so unpredictable that no one is willing to make any type of you know, there’s no clarity. Everyone is sort of seeking cover. And in this hyper partisan environment that we live in today, nobody’s willing to kind of stick their neck out and say, ‘Well, this is what we’re going to do to take initiative, be imaginative.’ And that’s really what we need so that we can function in a type of new normal when it comes to research.
We know that we’ve got vaccines – 95% of the federal workforce is vaccinated. I believe that you have to either show proof of vaccination status to get inside of the archives or show that you’ve had a negative test. And then of course, you’re required to wear a mask. So, there are things in place to make sure that we have a safe environment when we’re researching. So, the public is safe, and the staff are safe. We just need to figure out how to get back to pre-pandemic levels of access, even if we do have some new restrictions in place, like masks or vaccines or things like that.
Jessica: Geoff mentioned to access the archives, showing that you’re vaccinated, using a mask. So that was in place during the couple of weeks that two of the archives were actually opened in November. We had two archives opened for a couple of weeks, in November. And we did follow all of those protocols. However, they were closed, and the other facilities around the country have never opened since March 2020.
Lisa: And of course, since then, with the coming up Omicron, we know that the vaccinated get ill just like the unvaccinated. So, you’re right, it keeps changing and keeps moving. And that’s where the lack of the goalpost is kind of a challenge.
Let’s talk about some of the ways you’re trying to communicate with the National Archives to see what could be resolved so that everybody feels good about what’s happening and can participate and get what they need.
How You Can Make a Difference in the Reopening
Jessica, you’ve put a petition together. This is what first came to my attention. Tell us about what that is and what your goals are.
Jessica: Absolutely. A main goal that I have with this petition is I just thought ‘I can’t let over two years go by with these important archives being closed, and the leaders of the archives not receive a united strong message from our communities that we care about this, and that it affects us.’ So a major goal is I just want to be able to show them how many people care that they’re closed, especially because it affects us not only now, but genealogists and historians have a long history of having to fight for public access to records.
I don’t want those leaders to look back on this event, years into the future and think ‘well, nobody really seemed to mind that they couldn’t access those records.’ I want them to know that many, many thousands of people cared that they couldn’t access the records.
The ask of this petition is that they reopen by sometime in March 2022. That will be a full two years that many of these facilities have been closed. We’ve seen many other events and businesses and groups have been able to safely reopen, I think that the National Archives is capable of doing the same. I think that it’s important that we ask for that strongly and in the united fashion.
The petition is at https://change.org/reopen archives. We want thousands of signatures. We have about 3000. We’d like to at least double that. We want them to know that these archives matter to the citizens of the United States and the world.
Lisa: I wholeheartedly agree. And I know you’ve just had it up a couple of days, and that’s an amazing start right out of the gate.
As you said, there’s a lot of different players involved who make the decisions, but it’s so important that we make our voice known and our needs known because how else would they incorporate that into the decision-making?
Anything else Geoff that you want to mention about this and things that you would encourage people to do?
Geoff: Something else folks might think about doing is reaching out to your house representative to your senators and just letting them know that you care about this issue that you want to see the archives open all the research rooms back open again. Citizens need and deserve access to government records. That’s the archives mission.
Lisa: it certainly is, and I really appreciate and respect that the two of you have taken some action and made your voices known and hopefully we will ask everybody here watching to help do the same.
Jessica: And please share, you share it, sign it and also share!
Lisa: Yes, That’s the best way to get the word out. Everybody knows another genealogist!