A visit to the Family History Library
As an ambassador for the upcoming Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in February, 2015, to be held in connection with Rootstech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have a lot of work to do to get ready for this conference.
I am arriving several days in advance of the conference to use the Family History Library. It will be my second visit. I am really, really looking forward to it, and preparing much more than you would think.
The notebook idea
I will only get to the Family History Library every few years, at most. Since it’s a chance to access all the microfilm in the world, and lots of books, I need to prepare well to get the most benefit from this.
A couple months ago I was visiting a local city hall archives and ran into a man who was researching a local historical topic. He was asking me a few questions and we got to talking, and he pulled out his notebook. I have to admit I was fascinated by it. He had developed pages of typed notes with pictures and maps, in color, scattered through the pages. I suspected it was, essentially, a draft of the book he hoped to put together. He had the materials printed double sided in color and spiral-bound. It was just maybe 200 pages with the spiral binding. It was lightweight, portable, and easy to use even on cramped tables. He scrawled some notes on it; it was clearly his working copy.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the little notebook and decided, in November when a coupon came up for a big discount at lulu.com, that I would try it. I put together my tree charts, color coded according to sections of the tree. I copied into Word some of my blog posts that I thought I would be most likely to want to refer to in the library, downsized the pictures, and saved those as pdf’s. I forgot to add my pdf Evidentia reports, but I would do that another time. I uploaded these separate pdf documents into lulu.com, then combined them into one book. I made a cover and ordered.
When the spiral book arrived, it was attractive, but I was disappointed at how heavy it was. I forgot lulu uses extra heavy paper for color printing. I think the point of the notebook is that it should NOT be a lot to lug around. And, the paper was shiny, not good for writing on.
Looking at the notebook gave me some new ideas. If I really wanted to write in it, I should leave space for that. And, I decided during my last trip that I might prefer to bring my list of microfilms on, say, a clipboard, instead of using an electronic device. What if I combined these ideas into one custom, spiral notebook?
The workbook for FHL
I realized that what I really wanted was a workbook for my library visit.
So I created a form for collecting my microfilm lists. I wanted to copy the details of the film from the familysearch.org catalog. My pages should be suitable for taking a few notes, since I will mostly be saving scans of each page I need, but I would like to document what I saw and what I saved, and some notes about the content. I also wanted to note in advance on each page what I was looking for, and to check the item off after I was done. I wanted an indication along the edge of which research problem this was part of. I think I will add an extra ruled page on the reverse of each sheet.
I’ve spent several weeks gathering about 25 pages, and I will work on this for about another month. I’m trying to focus on no more than three or four research problems and to look for unique resources that are either inconvenient or impossible to obtain elsewhere. So far I have found some unusual local records, plus some records from Nova Scotia and England. Given the restrictions in some Rhode Island repositories, I also will be looking at some records that it would be hard to print or photograph elsewhere.
I like to search the FamilySearch.org catalog by place name or family name, and I’m finding such interesting stuff. Of course, some family genealogy books have now been digitized and I guess I would have to access those on site through a computer.
I will try, when I am there, to concentrate on reading records and NOT race through trying to capture as many screens as possible. This is difficult for me to do, but I will try. I always feel like I will concentrate better at home, reading what I’ve copied, but then I lose the chance to use new ideas to find additional materials.
I will want to look through the books, and I usually park myself in the stacks for a while looking through everything related to certain locations. I also have started a book list.
So the NEW spiral notebook, which I will order in black and white about a month before I leave, will contain:
- The tree charts
- Some useful posts from my blog
- The few Evidentia reports I have made so far
- The microfilm worksheets
- The book list
I will probably carry this spiral bound book around for about a year to libraries. It will cost less than $10.
The Word document used for the microfilm page is HERE.
A few words in hindsight
I’m adding this note about 6 months later: I spent about 3 months after my visit going through all the records and images I had saved, and my notebook. I carefully recorded in my real files the searches I had tried that didn’t work, and I closely examined everything I brought back. A few things I learned:
- I managed to finish the entire workbook during 5 long days in Salt Lake City.
- always make a note about result on the notebook page, even if it’s just “see images on camera”, “see saved scans in SMITHFIELD folder” or “nothing relevant found.”
- I should have left more room for notes on the book list. You take just as many notes from books as from microfilm.
- I didn’t use the blog posts that I had included in the notebook because it turns out that when you thoroughly prepare for a repository trip, you are NOT paging through old notes for that one fact. You don’t need to.
- The tree charts were useful.
- I wish I had numbered each page because it would have helped me monitor my progress.
- Next time, I will make up some useful blank forms for sets of records, like deeds, and add those in the book. This will help me to document those deed pages that I scan from microfilm.
- As I reviewed the notebook at home, I added sticky tabs to the pages where I think I can follow up at another library or site, saying “Warwick City Hall” or “RI Historical Society”. I’ve done a few of those, and when I finish the last 3-4, it will be time to get rid of the notebook.
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