As a prolific blogger and long-time family historian from Darwin, Pauleen Cass of Family History Across the Seas knows a thing or two about the joys of genealogy online. But here, instead, she takes a step away from the keyboard and shares with us her top 10 ways to take your research out and about into the wider world.
These days we are able to do a lot of family history online and the computer has become our best research friend. This is a fantastic boon, especially for those of us whose time is limited and for those of us who live, as so many of us do, far from our ancestral homes. The downside is that there can be a tendency to ignore a host of other opportunities for research, not to mention other opportunities for building up skills in different types of genealogy research. So here are my top 10 activities to get you out the door and trying new research opportunities.
Don’t throw up your hands and say “This can’t help me, my rellies lived miles away!” (as did mine, by the way); even if they did, you can still stretch your research muscles in the local area, so you’ll be skilled up by the time you hit your home turf.
Think of it as a type of research ‘shopping expedition’, if that helps, but without the big bills at the end.
1. Write to rellies
This is something you can do irrespective of where you live. Yes, it might work best with relatives you’ve met, in places you know. But it does also work if you have to ring them up (you can use Skype or similar to make cheaper distance calls). When I was writing my family history I cold-called quite a few ‘old-timers’ who were happy to share some of their stories with me. You can always send them a note beforehand, explain your interest, and mention that you will ring in about a week.
I’ve found “maiden aunts” are often fantastically knowledgeable about the family and may have heaps of photos from the different branches. Don’t just cross-examine them: take an interest in what they have to say.
2. Search a cemetery
Yes, I know there are lots of grave search options and images online, and they’re absolutely fabulous. But have you ever just wandered the oldest part of a nearby cemetery to see what is represented on the surviving gravestones? This is where you may well find clues about those elusive Irish or European ancestors, for example their home town or the original spelling of their name. You may also find there’s symbolism in the type of memorial that was erected.
3. Wander the library shelves
Doesn’t matter if it’s your local library or a big state library, there’s just so much tucked away in the shelves. You can search the online catalogues to get clues, but once you’re there it’s worth just looking within the same number range to see what’s on the shelves. Be lateral in your search: rather than looking for a specific name try to see what’s out there on pubs or railways or your ancestral village or county. If you find something in the catalogue you’d like to read, but you can’t get to the library, you may be able to have it sent as an inter-library loan to a library near you. It depends on where you live, and their policies, but it’s worth checking out.
4. Get yourself a library card
State library cards can be wonderful assets. Some resources may only be available in the library, like dedicated genealogy sections, free access to various pay-to-view genealogy websites as well as an array of microfiche and microfilms, including electoral rolls. Even used offsite though, the cards can offer other facilities. Why not check out your state library to see what they offer.
The National Library of Australia (NLA) also offers a library card which gives you access to their electronic databases. One of my favourites is JSTOR, a database of academic journal articles which is simply great for more general background on the context of your families’ lives. The NLA also offers great inter-library loans of books and microfilms. Ask if they can send to a library near you.