Once again the Society’s annual tour to Salt Lake City is upon us. This year we will have almost 100 people joining us on the tour, which is certain to keep the staff hopping for the week. In addition to the preparatory efforts for my work with the participants, I have been preparing for my own personal research that I will be doing while I am at the Family History Library (FHL).
Whenever taking a research trip, either on your own or as part of a tour, it is helpful to review materials and develop goals prior to departing. All too often, on many of our tours, we have folks who are not able to get as much research done as possible because they did not refresh their memories and develop a list of specific problems and questions to deal with on the tour. Not only is it frustrating for them, it is frustrating for us as staff members. We love working closely with participants on our tours, doing our best to help them solve problems, break down brick walls, and find new ancestors.
Before taking any trip, sit down and look at your research. This is especially important if you haven’t worked on some lines in a long time. In preparing for my trip, I looked at research I had done on my uncle’s ancestors. I hadn’t touched these lines in 10 years or more. I had hit a brick wall with a couple who lived in Philadelphia and married in the late 1840s. Just looking at it again, and using the online databases now available, I was able to identify the couples’ parents, the wife’s grandparents, and the English origins of her grandfather. Researching English and Jamaican records at the FHL will hopefully confirm what I have found in other sources.
As another step in my research, I create a word processing document and call it “SLC Research [insert month and year of trip].” In this document, I start a summary list of questions and problems to work on. Under each one, I copy FHL film and fiche numbers, as well as call numbers of print materials that I will look at for that problem. I can then print this document and use it to retrieve materials when I am onsite. This cuts back on the time I have to wait to consult the catalog there. I then type in a summary of my findings for each film under that film number/book in the list and save it. Sometimes I put page breaks between items so I can have a partly blank page to write notes on while I am moving around the library.
One of the tasks I perform when I am in the stacks in the library is to conduct a literature review. Once I have retrieved information from books I pulled out of the catalog, I look at every book on the shelf that deals with the locality in which I am researching. This sometimes involves moving to several areas in the stacks because of the way items are catalogued. I often find at least one or two nuggets of hidden information that I might not have found otherwise. I’ve also found more than one index/abstract/transcription of records that I might not have found through a regular FHLC search.
Whenever you are taking a research trip, make sure to take the time to do your homework before leaving. Even if you will be consulting with professionals on your trip, the more work you do in advance, and the more familiar you are with the problems you will be researching, the greater your chances will be for success.