The October Genealogy Club topic was “But Isn’t Everything Online?” Family History Research in State Archives. The title led many to think, what isn’t available online? Our guest speaker Melanie Spurgeon from Mesa, Arizona provided an eye-opening list of resources that aren’t online. She recently retired as the State Archivist and Director of the Arizona State Archives and Records Management Branch of the Arizona State Library. She holds a PhD in history and is an avid family historian. Melanie opened by saying that family history research is like putting a puzzle together and sometimes there is a missing part or a piece that doesn’t fit. Further, the root word for history is not story but rather inquiry. When one hits the proverbial brick wall, the answer may not be found at Ancestry.com or Family Search. They digitize only a narrow range of records. A better approach may be to go to your state archives.
State archives hold an amazing amount of original records in a wide range of topics. Many invaluable documents are also held at the county level. These records can help a researcher find information on a relative, a missing person or facts not available elsewhere. State archives collect papers, photographs, maps, leather, films, tapes, court records, electronic data, etc. Original records date back to colonial government, territorial records, county and town records.
Melanie emphasized the importance of analyzing the social geography as well as the physical geography of the family being researched. Key demographic elements to consider may include color, race, occupation, class, gender, religion, education or ancestral lines. This will help narrow the list of records to search. Another important part of preparing to visit any archival site is to know what records are available in advance of arrival. For example, she informed attendees that most divorce actions required legislative prior to 1968. This would lead one to search Legislative Records for information. Another example shared involved name changes. Approval of a name change was also a legislative action. These two examples are the tip of the iceberg. Other original documents available to all researchers include maps, school records, insanity records, church records, court records, divorces, name changes, inquests, naturalization, private manuscript collections and photographs.
The wealth of original records available begs the question, how does one prepare for a visit? Melanie recommended researching the list of records available and contact the archivist to explain one’s research goal. This will greatly increase the results of one’s research effort.
Join us next month when we welcome Sherri Hessick speaking on “Recipe for a Successful Research Trip to the Family History Library.” This topic should tie in perfectly with Melanie Sturgeon’s outstanding presentation. Visitors are always welcome to join us.