Friday, March 11, 2011

Lesson of the Week

There is something to be said about the statement "we learn something new every day".  That has never been more true than as it relates to my study of family history research.  Not only does the landscape in this industry change constantly, but the breadth of knowledge that is available to us is phenomenal.  One could never know everything.  And we begin to specialize...whether it be in a geographical region or a family line.  And with that, we embark daily on the challenge of learning what is needed in order to move forward with our research.

Along this line, another favorite statement of mine goes something like this:  "just because I learned it once, doesn't mean I won't need to learn it again".  This is most likely to occur when I learn something and don't apply it frequently enough to make it stick.  But that isn't always the case, as was proven to me this past week.

My "lesson of the week" is this:

First, find out what records exist.  Then, determine if they are available.

No kidding you say--this is new?!  Well, yes and no.  Obviously, every time we take a look at the Handybook or Ancestry's RedBook to determine the boundaries of a county, when vital records began, and where they are held, we are applying the rule of first finding out what exists.  Then we work on determining where those records are stored and if they are readily available.  But how often do we really apply that principle?  Or do we, spoiled as we are with all of the readily available records going online daily, simply pull up a well-known website and do a search, fully expecting what we need to be there?  And when it isn't, we wonder why; but do we look to see if actually had the record series we need? 

So, how did I "re-learn" this valuable piece of information?  The professor in a British Family History Research class re-iterated it in the context of British records.  In this situation I learned that we should first access a "what exists" resource like the NIPR (National Index of Parish Registers) which provides a complete list by county (shire) of what records exist, for what dates, and where they are kept.  It also includes non-conformist records, and specifically outlines the gaps in the records. Then when we go to the Family History Library Catalog to see which of those records were microfilmed, or to some of the online resources to see which records are available online, we approach the situation fully educated.  

When doing my locality survey for this class, I totally skipped that important first step....went straight to the 1851 England Jurisdictions ( to see what the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions were and then the FHLC (FamilySearch online catalog) to see what had been microfilmed and to familiar online sources to see what was available digitally.  As assignments were returned, the professor pointed out the obvious and reviewed it again--apparently many of us had skipped that important time-saving step.

So, I knew this.  Perhaps not as it relates to British research which is somewhat new to me, but in general.  It just hadn't played out in my mind in a way that it could translate to a new geographic area of research.  Sometimes we just need to "re-learn" it.  And that was my lesson for the week.  I'm sure it will make me a better researcher overall if I apply it more frequently :)

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