Hints to Get Your Needed Records During the Upcoming Year

I’m not sure what it is about holidays – maybe it’s the food, knowing time away from work is coming or the spirit of the season but I’ve learned that when I have a needed record to obtain those are the best times for me to secure it.

The good news is there are holidays all year long and you can use that to your advantage! Here’s what has happened to me and maybe this “Month of the Year Research Calendar” will work for you, too:

January – Last year I was writing a Kinship Determination Paper for by Board for Certification of Genealogists portfolio on the Harbaugh family and I needed clarification about their religious beliefs. Most of the first generation was buried in a Lutheran Cemetery in Indiana but the second generation was buried in a Brethren Cemetery. I was trying to understand when the change occurred so I called several churches in the area during the Christmas season seeking parishioner records from the 1880’s. The timing was wrong – churches are extremely busy then. I followed up via email in January and reminded them of the prior phone call, mentioned I hoped they had an enjoyable Christmas and before they got busy with Lent, would love them to check their parish records for me. It worked! By Valentine’s Day I had pictures of relatives I had never seen, a copy of the parish record book, an understanding of why the family went to a different denomination (it was across the street from where they lived) and a diary on DVD in which a parishioner had recorded daily life in the area that just happened to record ALL of the births and deaths of the family I was searching. January is for me, the best time to obtain church records!

February through Easter and October through December- This might not work for those somewhere other than Florida but I find those months the best time to meet folks from New England, Mid Atlantic and the Midwest as they are temporary residents here and frequently attend local workshops. So, if you’re residing in those locals then do this on the months I haven’t recorded! I pick their brains on resources from their home area, get leads on people back home they know who might help with my research and sometimes, meet a cousin. I’ve blogged previously about a serendipitous meeting I had in October 2016 (Less Than 6 Degrees of Separation and December 2015 A Transcription Treat).

March – April and November – I don’t know why these seem to be less busy times at archives but I’ve always found that the staff was readily available to help and the sites sparse with visitors. I’m talking about the Family History Library in Salt Lake and the New England Historic and Genealogical Society in Boston. I guess most researchers are either on spring break in a warmer climate or too busy getting ready for Thanksgiving during these times leaving the facility vacant. I’ve also had quick responses from state libraries via email during these months.

May – September – Need a tombstone photo? This is the best time to get one! Why? Simply because people visit cemeteries most between Memorial Day (duh!) and Labor Day. Put a request for a photo on Find-A-Grave a week prior to Memorial Day has almost always gotten me the photo I need. Think about it, who in their right mind would go out in a blizzard to take a cemetery photo? Well, yes, I would and have but that was because I was visiting the area and wouldn’t have gotten another chance to find what I needed. If I lived in the area, I would wait til the snow melted.

Thanksgiving – December – I was pining for the marriage record for one of my 3rd great grandparents. It’s not online and I needed to verify the date I found in family records as some of those were slightly off. I had called the small town in Ohio Clerk’s Office in August and was told to follow up with an email. I gave the couple’s names, dates of birth and what I thought was the marriage date. Two weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything so I emailed again. I got a response that the clerical workers were too busy. Waited another two weeks and emailed once more. Got the response that they were still busy and wouldn’t have time to look it up. Emailed the office manager and got no response. I left the email as open in my email account as a reminder I needed to pursue it. Well, on the Monday before Christmas I sent the following: Dear (clerk’s name), I’ve been a good genealogist this year and I’m hoping that you can assist Santa in bringing me the marriage record for my great grandparents – Emma Kuhn and Francis “Frank” Landfair. It’s all I want for Christmas! Wishing you a joyous season, Lori” I got it the next day. The response also explained why it’s never been scanned and online – evidently the book is in poor condition and won’t photograph well. I’ve also used a similar tactic the day before Thanksgiving. I called a cemetery for records and the office worker finally agreed to fax them to me because I told her I was having family over the following day and we just had to know who was buried in which plots. This cemetery is located in a not so nice area so I never could get anyone to take a photo and the clerk had previously refused to release the info due to privacy previously. (BTW-the dead don’t have privacy rights but she was insistent the cemetery rules prohibited her from releasing the plot information).

Hope this helps your hunting as you plan your research for the year!

Research Tips

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 30 Jul 2016.

I spent the past two weeks researching in several states.  Each archive I visited had different policies and procedures but there were commonalities that helped me use my limited time efficiently.  On a visit to one of the libraries I had a co-worker tag along and she asked me to share how I found so much so quickly.  Since she’s a dear reader, per her request, I’d like to share how I plan my research trips.

  1. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO – Your time is valuable and you don’t want to waste it!  The only way to make to the most of your visit is to PLAN AHEAD.  How do I do that?  As soon as I know I will be arriving in a distant area I identify who is in my tree that lived in the area I’ll visit and what additional information for that individual I’d like to find.  I look at the sources I have and focus on what’s missing.  I next go to Familysearch.org and do a search for archives I may be interested in visiting to quickly plan the visit.

Here’s an example from my recent trip to Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  I click on Familysearch.org and under SEARCH at the top, use the drop down and click WIKI.  On the map of the world I click the US, then Pennsylvania, then Franklin County.  Up pops wonderful information!  I scroll down to the bottom where the repositories are located.  I snip to Word (or if you are using a Kindle – copy/paste to Evernote) and in just a minute or two have created a guide of where I need to go.  Is the list complete?  No, but it’s a wonderful tool to start with.  Using the identified places that look promising – Courthouse in Chambersburg (for deeds and wills), Alexander Hamilton Library in Waynesboro (for obit), and the Franklin County Historical Museum (for knowledge of the area’s records in general) I can visit those websites for opening/closing times, admission costs, records that are housed there, and policies in place.  I add that info to my Word document.  As I’m Googling to find additional information about these places I discover more archives to add by looking at the right hand bottom of the Google search results page under “People Also Searched For.”  To make sure I’m not missing any smaller gem that may not receive alot of internet traffic, I also Google “Franklin County Pennsylvania USGenWeb”  Voila – scrolling down under Historical & Genealogical Societies and Museums is listed Waynesboro Historical Society.  That’s a place I need to add to my Word/Evernote document as I know that the folks I’m searching for lived in that location.  Depending on the time I have to spend in the area, I add churches (baptism/marriage/death/parishioner records) and cemeteries (family plot info), too.

In a perfect genealogical world, I would have time to contact the repositories ahead of my visit to make sure that the old deeds are still housed in the courthouse and weren’t moved to the museum but sometimes that’s not possible and I just have to wing it.  For this trip, though, I did call ahead or search the website to verify who had what.

I then prioritize what I wanted to find as sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we want.  Several years ago I planned a trip around a library in Morristown, New Jersey and guess what?!  The day before I arrived they had a gas leak and the library was closed when I got there.  I had nothing else identified to visit in the area and the trip was an expensive waste of time.  Live and learn!

Once I’ve identified my list of sites to visit I route based on my priorities.  On the Franklin trip, my number one priority was to find a will, then the deeds, as I hoped that would lead me to a firm death date and I could then locate the burial site.  If they weren’t available my backup was to find an obituary.

Even with planning, sometimes life gets in the way so you have to be flexible.  I arrived at Reagan National in DC mid day on a Thursday.  I had pre-paid for the rental car thinking I could drive in 1 1/2 hours to the courthouse to get the will and deeds, go next door to the county historical museum to check out their index of county burials and then head to the library (which was open late that evening) to find an obit.  Well, it didn’t work out as planned.  Arriving early at National I then encountered a long wait at the rental car counter as it was lunch time and there was only 1 employee available who was arguing with the customer ahead of me over company policy.  The kiosks were all down due to a computer glitch.  I waited and waited and finally another employee came back from lunch.  He was new, though, and couldn’t find my reservation even though I had a copy of my confirmation with me.  Then he found it but the transaction wouldn’t go through as the credit card I had used to pre-pay had been compromised two weeks earlier and I had a replacement card with another number.  He told me my option was to rent a car at the going rate (much higher) and deal with getting a credit on my pre-payment after my trip.  Nope!  Asked to speak to a manager and none available.  Meanwhile, the clock was ticking….   After two calls to corporate customer service I was permitted to update my credit card information and get the rental.  Thinking it would be smooth sailing ahead I happily followed the employee’s directions to go to the top floor of the parking garage and find the car in the space he wrote on the paperwork.  Except there were no rental cars on the top floor – he should have sent me to the 3rd floor.  Took me several minutes to figure out where to go.  When I got to the designated space I couldn’t get into the car.  I then had to hunt down an employee who told me they rented me the wrong car and I needed to go back downstairs to get it straightened out.  When I arrived downstairs there was a long line and seriously, the first employee was still arguing with the customer who had been there when I first arrived.  Thankfully, the nice people in line let me take cuts and the new employee again didn’t know what to do.  A manager now magically appeared and they found me a different car.  Back to the 3rd floor and another wait to get out of the parking lot as there was one employee to check me out.  I lost an hour plus that I had expected to use researching.  Deep breathing helps!

2.  PACK EFFICIENTLY –   Below is a pic of what I keep together to make my research trip more efficient:

This is all I take – my Kindle as it contains my tree, my phone so I can take pictures of my finds, a small change purse with quarters for parking meters, locker rental or snacks, a thumb drive to save what I find, identification (those are Library of Congress and NARA library cards but I also put my drivers license credit cards and a few business cards in the change purse), a pencil, red pen, black pen and highlighter, stickees (to flag the index as I’m going back and forth in a text), hand sanitizer and a magnifying glass.

All of this fits into a quart size baggie:

Remarkable how everything fits except the Kindle!  Sometimes I take a large rubber band and band the baggie to the Kindle so I don’t drop anything.

This small amount of needed tools helps me move quickly through security and not spend time digging through my purse to find what I need when I’m in the stacks.  I also check out quickly as employees can see I haven’t “accidentally” taken something out that I shouldn’t have.  This set up is a win-win for everyone!

I actually prefer mechanical pencils to the standard shown above but I was out so I used what I had at home.  I’ll get those mechanical ones when the back-to-school sales start this week.

It’s important to know the repositories policy as some do no allow you to take paper, pens, pencils or highlighters in with you.  At the National Archives, I had to leave my Kindle case in a locker, too. Again, flexibility is needed.

Next blog, I’ll give you hints for being effective and efficient when you reach your destination.  Happy Hunting!

The Scoop on Salt Lake City’s Family History Library – Views of a First Time Researcher

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com 26 Apr 2015

Yours truly, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 2015
Yours truly, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 2015

If you haven’t been bitten by the genealogy bug you don’t understand why anyone would spend a week of their hard earned vacation time in a library far from home researching dead people.  My work colleagues gave me polite bemused smiles last month when I shared my exciting news – I was FINALLY going to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Definitely not a dream vacation for any of them but it’s always been my hope to one day research there.

Here’s what I learned from my adventure…


  • Form a goal – mine was finding clues on how to climb over at least one of my top 10 walls in the four days I would be visiting.
  • Make a list of the people you want to search – what you know, how you know it, & what you want to know.  Then, narrow your list down as you aren’t going to have time to check out every one.  I used a small pocket notebook as a backup to my electronic tree.  I have my tree saved to a cloud (Dropbox and ancestry.com) so it’s available in case I needed to view saved original records. The notebook enabled me to write down call numbers, page numbers and thoughts and was a backup if the electricity went out.  (Ok, I realize that would be highly unlikely but being from Florida where we have the power go out frequently, I was going to find a window and keep working from my paper notes.)
  • If you haven’t already done so, join FamilySearch – like the library, it’s free. Then, use the online catalog  to identify resources you’ll be checking.  If you’re not sure how to use the catalog check out this Youtube video.  Make sure you remember to print and bring the list you’ve compiled! You’ll be using the catalog as you find new information at the library but this initial search is a great way to identify a starting point.  If you see “Vault” on an item request that it be pulled for you so it will be available on the day of your visit – you can do that from home.
  • View these YouTube videos so you are familiar with the library procedures:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_umqQmaGvM  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sAr7NltMaY
  • You’ll quickly get acclimated to the floor collections: British Isles-Basement 2, International-Basement 1, Surnames and Canada books-1st floor, US/Canada microfilm-2nd Floor and US Books and Maps-3rd floor. Here’s a floor plan of the library: https://familysearch.org/locations/library_floor_plans
  • Go online to verify the library hours (Typically Monday 8AM-5PM, Tues-Fri. 8AM-9PM, Sat 9 AM-9PM). I saw a sign while there of an upcoming closure so do check ahead of time or you may be in for a disappointing surprise.
  • Google Earth your hotel and the library (35 North West Temple Street) so you know the route.  The blocks are much longer than in my area but it was a pleasant walk as passerbys were very friendly.


  • Kindle Fire/IPad/Tablet if you have one.  Don’t go out and buy one if you don’t!  I used my Fire to take notes, sign on to the free wifi to check my tree, use Google translator and do quick searches of the catalog while in the stacks or at the microfilm area.  Saved time getting up and walking over to a computer.
  • Digital camera, scanner or your phone with a fully charged battery.  I took pics of the book pages and microfilm discoveries.  If none of those suggestion work for you, purchase a copy card.  I wanted to come home without killing a forest and be able to quickly import what I found to my tree page so the camera worked well for me.  I bought an extra sd card but didn’t need it. Make sure you bring the charger to recharge the battery overnight!
  • Office Supplies I found useful were a pen (there are pencils with no erasers and scrap paper everywhere), stickees to tag book pages that I wanted to photograph, and a highlighter to highlight the microfilm index pages I wrote down so I knew that I checked each page. (I so despise microfilm even though that’s where I seem to find my most amazing discoveries!)
  • A magnifying glass – seriously!  Some of the records are small and difficult to see.
  • A bag to carry your research goodies.  I used my airline carry-on purse but a backpack would also work.  My hotel was several blocks away and it rained so the bag and the rain poncho I brought kept my stuff safe and dry.


  • Laptop – there are plenty of computers to use.  I brought mine the first day and it was heavy to lug around as you don’t want to leave it out unattended.  I used it in the hotel in the evening to upload my discoveries, record the source citation while they were still fresh in my mind, and plan for the following day’s research but I really didn’t need to bring it at all since I had the tablet.
  • A thumb drive – always have one on me but didn’t use it.


  • Change – I used the lockers on the first day only to store the laptop I didn’t need.
  • Orientation  Room– Since I viewed the YouTube videos I didn’t need to spend time there, though I did a quick walk through of the eye appealing displays in the room.
  • Snacks-I was so consumed by what I was doing I wasn’t hungry.  I brought a box of granola bars but never ate them. There is a vending machine area if you do get hungry.
  • Meals at the Blue Lemon in City Creek Center that everyone raves about because the line was long (there was a conference in town).  For a quick bite, eat at JBs, the old fashion restaurant on the corner – a nice salad bar, daily specials and a to die for chocolate chiffon pie to celebrate your finds! I figured I burned a 1000 calories using my brain to research so the calories didn’t count.  JBs online reviews weren’t so hot but due to inclement weather, I didn’t want to venture far.  Wish I had discovered them on day 1!  Also did Johnny Rocket and Jimmy Johns for lunch, Olive Garden, Squatters Pub, and Blue Iguana for dinner.  Used the hotel breakfast bar which had a nice selection of different items every morning.
City Creek Center with real trout in the creek!


  •  First Day – I admit that I’m a research nerd and I got so excited when I walked in that I announced to the world that my dream had come true.  I guess that got me tagged as a Newbie which resulted in the staff asking me throughout the day how things were going.  Each morning staff welcomed me back and asked what I’d be working on that day.  By my last day I was hugging several volunteers and staff members good-bye as their genuine interest in my research bonded us.  I sent a few email thank you’s upon my return home as one genealogist’s neighbor was from my childhood hometown and I had pictures to share. Another volunteer was researching the same surname (Coke) from the same areas (Virginia and New York) and we hit it off.
  • On each floor is a podium with helpful volunteers.  I call them the Greeters.  On your first time on each floor they can give you useful tips for their resources.  For example, on the 3rd floor on the left wall is a notebook cheat sheet to quickly locate state-county-city books on the shelves.  I wouldn’t have found it if the Greeter hadn’t told me about it.  After you’re familiar with the floor I found myself going to the podium behind the podium – that’s where you ask for specific genealogical assistance.
  • Ask For Help – I liked to get there at opening because there are no crowds and you can quickly speak with a genealogist.  If there is a wait, they’ll give you a restaurant style pager.  I never waited longer than 5 minutes.  Getting a new pair of eyes on your quandaries can open up a new direction for you. Blue lanyards are research helpers, red lanyards are collection helpers.  Even if you forget which is which you’ll be directed to someone that can help you.
  • Pace Your Day – I varied my activities between looking at books, microfilms (which tires my eyes), following a new lead online after using their other resources, and talking with a genealogist. I tried to speak with a genealogist first because both of us are fresh first thing in the morning, there is no wait and the advice might have revised my plan for the day.  I looked at books next because they don’t circulate to my home library for review like microfilms do so I didn’t want to miss them.  On my last afternoon I browsed the surname books on the first floor.  I found 2 books on Leiningers I didn’t know about and was surprised they didn’t have the 2 that I have, nor any of the 3 Harbaugh books.  It’s important to remember they don’t have everything.  If you don’t find what you’re looking for it still may be out there somewhere so don’t give up!
  • Classes – I didn’t think I would have time to take a class so I didn’t look at the schedule from home.  Thank goodness that the daily classes are posted and an announcement is made about 30 minutes before the start of one.  I found I did have time so I took Scotts-Irish Research Ideas and French Resources.  Both were awesome, FREE and gave me additional direction to pursue.  I wish I could have squeezed in the German class, too.
  • Have Fun Outside of the Library, Too!  All research and no sightseeing makes for an exhausted and grumpy travel companion so do see the surrounding area.  There is a Visitor’s Center next to Salt Lake Palace Convention Center (with a nice small gift shop) a block away that can assist you.  My travel companion and I took the UTA light rail which is very inexpensive to the University of Utah to visit the “Dino” Museum and the botanical gardens next door.
Dino Family Tee at the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake
Dino Family Tee at the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake
Magnolia at Red Butte Gardens

A student we met on the light rail gave us a short walking tour of the University which was also nice.  There is a free campus van that will drive you from the light rail to the museum/gardens.  It’s about a 10 minute walk but it’s all uphill!

One night we did the Grimm Ghost Tour which was fun but a little creepy – I skipped out on visiting the serial killer’s basement.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir had a dress rehearsal on another evening which was wonderful.  (No pictures, no audio and they check your bags).

The choir was in the building across from the Temple

We also rented a car to go to Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake.  This is where the bison and the antelope play.

Great Salt Lake


Your knowledgeable and dedicated employees and volunteers are beyond awesome!  I so appreciated their wonderful recommendations, encouragement and patience with my many questions.  I am thankful that I was able to visit your beautiful facility and plan on returning again and again!

 Only suggestion I have is to remind your Elders if you want the Millennial generation to become interested in genealogy, they need to be encouraging. On two separate days, my travel partner was questioned by Elders as to why I was asking all the questions.  She responded politely that she was new to genealogy and was in town for the conference.  The response of both was, “Hrmph.”  My advice, Elders, is listen to the Sisters. They always said, “Glad you’re here!”


IMHO, there are 2 kinds of people in the world – the glass is half full and the glass is half empty.  Before I left home I had several people tell me I wouldn’t find anything. WRONG!  I found and learned so much that I only wish I had more time to spend and lived closer.  I am truly sorry for the folks that never found what they were looking for.  I know it’s frustrating but it is what it is. Just because you didn’t find anything doesn’t mean no one else should go.

I also had acquaintances tell me that I would be accosted by Mormons who were going to repeatedly attempt to evangelize me.  WRONG!  No one ever tried to persuade me to join the Mormon faith.  No one ever asked me what my faith is.  The ancestors I was researching had been Quaker, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Puritan, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist.  No one cared that they weren’t Mormon.  No one tried to ‘baptize’ them.  Just because a Mormon woke you up too early on a Saturday morning does not mean it’s going to be a problem in the library.  It won’t be.  So go visit – you really must!

Next time I’m going to share my thoughts on how the library experience pushed me to pursue becoming a Certified Genealogist.