I enjoyed Gen-Fed; those of you who follow me on Facebook know that already! I feel more comfortable working within NARA, with the Staff and the records, and even the website, than I did before I arrived. Here are some of my research observations of my week. Specific tips will be covered later.
- One of the easiest records to pull is a Civil War pension or a Civil War Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR). If you have individuals who served in the Civil War, I recommend that these records be pulled first. Pick up the military form, fill it out, take it to the desk on first floor. They will review your work and make sure you have entered things correctly. You then put it into the pick up box. And you are done with that request. You can put in a maximum of 4 requests per hour.
- Picking up the pension/CMSR isn’t that hard either. After the pull of the record, you go to the research room on 2nd floor, turn left and go to the far wall (in the next room) to request your file. Of course, there are security stops along the way but the actual process of picking up a record is simple. Have fun!
- I call these types of records “episodic;” that is, you request a file by given & surname and you get it. You review one, and that is it. Bounty land records fall into this category as well (with an extra step).
- “Longitudinal research” is what I call subject research. Longitudinal research “feels” more like a fishing expedition where you are looking at subject files (not filed by surname) that may or may not directly refer to your ancestor. NARA is really set up for longitudinal research. Therefore, one week will never seem enough for this type of research.
- I had to manage my expectations. We get used to “grazing Ancestry” and finding (or not) hits with some regularity. Archival research, especially longitudinal research, is contemplative and strategic– one cannot expect positive results on the hour. It just doesn’t happen. If you get a “hit” with one record a day—consider that a good day. Two?–total win.
I think my comments above go to my core issue–NARA research is different, and it has something to do with the fact they file by record group, but there is more to it than that. NARA seems overwhelming, but like life–you take it a chunk at a time.
In any archive, there is a total dependence on the archivist that is not true of researching in a library. That is not a bad thing; I love having interactions with a deeply knowledgeable archivist. I am grateful for the experienced archivists and I am very gentle with those that are still learning the records. All of us were there at one time or another. In archives, we have to “ask for help.” And, it’s OK if we do!
I could have been better prepared for my Gen-Fed experience, — maybe “better” is the wrong word. Maybe the right word is “differently.” It is one of those things where you say to yourself, “If I knew then what I know now…” I should have done more reading of the NARA publications, particularly of the ones I would most likely access–Civil War Records and land records. I have some NARA directories in my library and I should have reviewed those. I should have spent more time online getting very familiar with the website…shoulda, shoulda, shoulda.
The reality is that now that I have gone through Gen-Fed, those books and the website make a whole lot more sense than they did before, so I question whether I would have been more knowledgeable or just more frustrated, if I have done more reading.
GenFed actually leaves you some time to conduct research during the week–the urban myth of no research time at Gen-Fed is false. Malissa and Debra have done a good job of scheduling. For example, I had the form filled out at Archive II and put into the pull box, before we even started the presentations in the morning. When the morning talks were over, I went and picked up the file. Since I had brought my lunch, I could review the file and then eat lunch all before the afternoon sessions.
Did I mention that I loved my classmates? They were all so smart and so eager to learn. It was great fun sharing discoveries and being supportive even when that special record just didn’t happen! Thanks.
Next blog will be some specific hints for a successful GenFed experience or NARA visitation.
What I have done since the last posting: vacationed with my family on the Cape, presented at the Falmouth Genealogy Society, worked on and submitted my presentations for the International Germanic American Conference; and responded to questions from the registrants for the next Certification Discussion Group and added folks to the wait list. (I already have a long wait list for the Fall and even winter session, but don’t let that impede you from sending me an email and signing up–the list isn’t going to get shorter if you wait.) And, of course, GenFed and some of my own research.