Like many beginning genealogy researchers, my first inclination is to go online to look for a fact or find a resource. If I don’t find what I’m looking for, more often than not I move on to the next thing to research online. But as I’m listening to veteran genealogists share their knowledge and expertise at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, I’m learning that online resources are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.
The first break-out session I attended was “But I’ve Looked Everywhere,” presented by Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS. It was a tremendous session and a great way for me to kick off the conference. She went over an amazing array of resources where you might find the information you’re looking for. And guess what? Many of those resources aren’t easily available online.
After two days (so far) of the conference, I’ve come to realize that I need (and want) to get out of the house and explore the amazing repositories of information available in my own community. I’m fortunate to live where there are not one, but two, large public library headquarters (St. Louis City and County), both of which have genealogy departments. There is also the Missouri History Museum Library as well as the National Personnel Records Center of the National Archives at St. Louis (the largest federal archive outside of Washington, D.C.). Also, the Missouri State Archives is just a couple of hours away in Jefferson City. They provide a great deal of information online through Missouri Digital Heritage, but I learned at the conference that there is much more information available that is not digitized. There is much for me to discover by researching in person.
One thing I’ve learned when I have gone out of town to research at various libraries is that it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and not take full advantage of what the repository has to offer. That’s because, I think, I’ve gone in thinking that I wanted to cast a wide net and learn as much as possible. Now I’m thinking I’m better off with a single focus, particularly if I’m using these local libraries where I can return again and again without effort.
In her talk, Barbara Vines Little said something that keeps echoing in my brain:
“You have to know what the question is before you can look for the answer.”
–Barbara Vines Little
I need to go into to these libraries and archives with a very specific question in mind. That will help me stay focused and help me use my time well. I’m excited to figure out those specific questions and get started!