Saturday, August 5, 2006

FHC Research Trip today

I went with about 15 other CVGS members to the Family History Center today on a "research trip." We try to do this every two months to a local repository so that our members (especially those that can't or won't drive on the freeways) have the opportunity to see what each place has to offer. We carpool from Chula Vista, leaving at 9:30 AM so as to get there at the opening bell at 10 AM.

To prepare for this trip (it's only about 12 miles from "home"), we had an FHC volunteer give us a visual tour of this FHC via PowerPoint at our society meeting on Monday morning. The presentation informed the group of what resources are available, where to find the resources at the FHC, and how to use the resources and the equipment.

Most of the group attending had been there before and were able to find books, films and web sites to browse and use. I heard a few shouts of joy and at least one happy dance while we were there from our group.

By coincidence, we picked the day when the local German Research Association meeting was held at the FHC, and several of our members attended the meeting and were helped one-on-one after the meeting by the German research experts.

I spent the day helping a new society member get started with her research. She had some family data neatly arranged on sheets of paper in narrative form, and I guided her in putting the data she had on pedigree charts. She got the hang of numbering the pedigree chart entries in ahnentafel fashion pretty quickly. She had quite a few names, but few dates and places in the available material. The challenge for the day was to fill in some of the blanks.

We moved to the computer, and accessed to introduce her to the Ancestral File and IGI. Then we accessed (free access at the FHC) and worked a bit in the vital record databases and the census. In the vital record databases, we put one of her family names in and quickly obtained death dates and places for her parents and one set of grandparents. That led to finding Social Security numbers for her parents in the SSDI.

In the census, we started with her grandparents in 1930, then 1920 and 1910, finding ages and places, but also finding a mother-in-law. The 1900 census provided the family of the great-grandparents, and she found them in 1880 and 1870 also. So she now has decent census data for three generations of one family line. We stopped at that point because it was time to go home, but she was happy to be successful and to fill in some of the blank dates and places on her pedigree chart.

When I help people like this, I try to do two things - coach them in accessing the records, providing hints and ideas of what to look for on the records that are found, and advising what to do next. My student today has good Internet skills and an inquisitive mind, so we were able to make a lot of progress.

I told her that just 5 years ago it would have taken us several weeks or a month to do everything we did today in four hours. The FHC has all of the census films, but we would have had to use Soundex for the 1880, 1900 and 1920 census records. For each surname in each state, we would have had to:

* define the soundex code,
* order the soundex film by state,
* wait three weeks for it to come,
* install the soundex film on the reader,
* review and search the soundex film,
* write down the roll and page number of the appropriate census film,
* find the right census film in the census film index book,
* get the right census film from the drawer,
* install the census film on the reader,
* scroll to the correct page on the census,
* write down the family information found on the page,
* if we want a copy, remove the film from the reader and take it to a reader-printer, center it, put a quarter in the machine, and hope the copy is readable.

Rinse and repeat for each surname in each state.

Isn't it amazing that we can do all of that using the Ancestry or HeritageQuestOnline census indexes and images for one family in less than ten minutes (assuming the indexed names are correct)?

Online resources have made our research faster in many cases.

It was a FUN day at the FHC. I missed the turnoff coming back again because we were talking about the day in the car. No problem, it gave us a few extra minutes to talk some more.

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