10 Questions to ask a research facility before you visit
Whether you're planning a trip to the State Historical Society, the Family History Library, the National Archives or the local courthouse, it pays to be prepared. Avoid frustration and increase your research time by asking these 10 questions in advance of your visit.
1. What are the regular research hours?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but some people still neglect to ask. By asking, you may learn that the facility is open late on certain nights for research, or that some areas of the facility keep separate hours. While the main library may be open daily 9-5, the microfilm room or local history room may have more limited research hours.
2. Are there any holidays or special closures?
It's not that uncommon for archives, courthouses and other research facilities to close for a few weeks during the summer or winter to give their staff a break, or to do some housekeeping. The SOG in North London is closed on a Monday.
Holiday closures may also include days you didn't expect, or portions of a facility may be closed for repairs or remodelling. Some smaller courthouses may even close for lunch!
3. In what form are the records available?
Are the records available in their original form or on microfilm? If the microfilm copies are illegible, can the original records be consulted? Are the files or records open-stack and open for browsing, or close-stack, meaning they must be requested or paged? Is there an online or printed index of the available records that can be consulted in advance?
4. Are there any record restrictions that will affect research?
A variety of restrictions may exist which could potentially affect your access to records during your visit. Some facilities may limit access to the facility or to certain records to members of certain genealogical or historical societies. The records you require may be housed off-site and need to be requested in advance of your visit (a common occurrence at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and in crowded courthouses). Newer records may have restrictions on access due to privacy laws. There are even cases where records may only be viewed in the presence of an archivist due to their age or value, and this will often need to be scheduled in advance.
5. What unique records or collections are available?
Whenever I visit a new research facility, I almost always make time to explore the records or collections that are unique to that facility - in other words, not readily available anywhere else. These may be family papers or letters, special groups of records, or one-of-a-kind manuscripts. If you can't view these records elsewhere, it makes sense not to miss them while you're there!
6. Are there restrictions on copying?
Can photocopies be made of all records? Is there a copy machine available for printing from microfilm? What is the cost for making photocopies? Can records be digitally saved to CD? Can you purchase a copy card, or do you need exact change? Sometimes there are records which may not be photocopied, so you'll need to plan time for making an abstract or transcription. There may also be records which can only be copied by a staff member, for which you'll need to allow extra time. Different types of copies often mean different costs.
7. What can and can't I bring with me to the facility?
Most facilities have restrictions on what you can bring into the research area with you. Some don't allow pens or markers. Some don't allow cameras or scanners. Some don't allow laptop computers. Avoid disappointment and make sure you have the tools you need by learning in advance what you are and aren't allowed to bring.
8. What are the best times to visit?
Every facility has times which are busier than others. Mondays and Fridays are often busier than mid-week, for example. If you can plan your visit for a time that is usually less busy, you'll have an easier time getting a good parking spot, finding an open microfilm reader and getting records from the stacks.
9. Is there a lunchroom? Nearby parking? Public transportation?
These are the questions I often forget to ask, and I end up kicking myself as I arrive. Staff members at the research facility will be able to tell you the best (and cheapest) place to park, or which bus routes provide service. If they don't have a lunchroom, ask about the best place to eat close by, or bring a bag lunch if they have a locker you can leave it in (since most facilities will not allow you to bring food inside).
10. Is there a particular archivist, librarian or staff member who specializes in my area of interest?
Having someone on hand when your visiting who will be able to help you with your specific research questions can be invaluable. All staff members should be able to help you locate records or use the microfilm machine, but there may only be one who is a specialist in Colonial research and can help you find records you didn't know existed.
A census is an official enumeration of the population in a particular area. In addition to counting the inhabitants of an area, the census generally collects other vital information, such as names, ages, citizenship status, and ethnic background. Each census can prove to be invaluable in painting a portrait of a family at a particular place and time.
Civil vital records—for Births, Marriage and Deaths —mark the milestones of our lives, and are the foundation of family history research. Chronicling the personal moments of our lives through the objective perspective of the public record, vital records can offer details often found through no other genealogical resource. They can be useful in proving or disproving other sources, give you a more complete picture of your ancestor, help you distinguish between two people with the same name, and help you find clues to earlier life events.
With these records, you can gain access to information regarding your ancestor's lives, such as the locations and causes of their deaths, the names of children or parents, their wedding dates and locations, and the many other details that help us record and remember the important moments in the lives of our families.
Some of the cemetery records included are tombstone inscriptions, burial permits, and death indexes. These records usually show names, birth and death dates; sometimes, they include information on surviving family members.