Repository demystification – A novice researchers guide to getting the most out of your research trips.

Several years ago a dear friend moved to Fort Wayne. This is a person, who no matter where they’ve lived, I’ve always managed to visit several times a year. So I’ve been to Fort Wayne several times since 2015. I became aware that they had an acclaimed “Genealogy Center” at their library, but never really gave it much thought. Genealogy was still a fun hobby, and one that I managed to do mostly from my laptop or with road trips to a place to get the thing from the source.

But even had I known about the valuable resources and the ease of access that The Genealogy Center offered, I’m not sure I would have gone without some compelling reason. I have this block about using repositories. I don’t know what to do with them…or I didn’t. I’m learning as I go. The very first one I visited when I was first studying my own genealogy was the white windowless marble box knows as the “Ice Cube” to Georgia locals – not intimidating at all! Recently I was sorting through my old files (even found my very first Family Group Sheet!!) and found my notes from our visit that day in 1987 and they are as useless to me now as they were then. Lists of names on uncited pages from unnamed books. (Like I said, I’m learning!)

Some Background

I was an analyst by trade and it’s always been easy for me to suss out a pattern or anomaly in given information sets. But I never really had to go find the information – someone or something else always did that. I just analyzed it. I knew the value and credibility of the sources, I knew the value and credibility of the data collector and the system used to bring it to me. I would look at the given data, analyze it, assess the value, form hypothesis, then request additional data and POOF! I would get the additional data to continue my evidence analysis. Sort of like how we use family tree research programs to bring hints to our desk top and we decide whether the are relevant or not! So this research thing was a mystery to me…

Past visits to archives and libraries have resulted in me spending way too much time collecting records and data but having no idea if it was relevant to my work or not, being overwhelmed the minute I entered the space, then feeling inferior as the person trying to help me obviously judged me for my lack of preparation. I am not a person who enjoys being unprepared! To this day, my few repository visits have not yielded anything I thought I needed. But, as I’ve come to learn – that is 100% completely my fault! I just didn’t know how to use them. Each one is different, too. Each library, center, and archives has their own system, their own rules, their own methods. It isn’t a one size fits all thing you can learn once.

Moving Forward!

As I’m learning to research – I thought I would share through these articles what I think is important to know before you go (because some of this stuff isn’t always on the website!) You old-hat genealogist may laugh and scoff at my attempts, as it is all probably so second nature to you and you realized years ago what wonderful resources were hiding in the stacks of these dusty windowless rooms, but maybe you’ll get something useful out of it too…like where the best cup of coffee is, or where you can sit after-hours with your wine and a glass of research 😉 I look forward to your comments, as I’m sure to overlook something in  my eagerness to share what I have learned about each place.

For those with repository hang-ups like mine, hopefully it will make your first visit less intimidating! While I’m not going to tell you how to solve your research problem – these articles should be helpful regardless of if you have a detailed research plan or just a subject you want to know more about.

Shameless Plug

Maybe you already know the value of these repositories but just can’t muster enough reason to go in person – follow me and watch for postings about upcoming road trips to places I go where you may need a record pulled. I’m sure we can work something out!

If you would like for me to speak or present to your group about any of the repositories highlighted here, please contact me via the comments.  I travel quite frequently, so I may just be in your area – or planning to be!

First stop: Fort Wayne’s Allen County Genealogy Center!

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