Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mary's Iceberg

Only a tiny fraction of all genealogical records are available online. That was the assertion of one of the speakers that I heard at FGS 2016 this past summer. And that makes sense. 

This series has been focused on online search strategies to flush out hidden records. However, collecting all the available records for a family goes beyond searching names in online collections.

How do you locate offline collections in the US? And how do you decide what collections are of value?

Start with the Family Search Wiki for locations that are of interest. Check out Cyndi's List, USGenWeb and other sites that describe resources. Look at websites for genealogical societies, historical societies, libraries, churches and archives. State and local government websites often list holdings. Remember to check the NUCMC, the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.

Also use your favorite search engine to search the entire internet. You never know what will turn up in an internet search. I located a collection of family letters in a university archive by simply doing a Google search.

I've shared with you just a few of the records that I have for Mary Maddox Neff and her family, but there are many others under the tip of the iceberg. I've been collecting Maddox family records for over 14 years.

Many online "records" are actually indexes to complete records. Each of those underlying records has to be evaluated, in addition to other offline collections. I had to analyze the cost and value of each record. Only you can do the value analysis for your own findings.

Here are some of the costs I've paid for copies (plus postage or travel costs):
  • Mary's obituary from genealogical society: $4
  • Marriage consent for Mary's mother from genealogical society: $1
  • Tax rolls for Mary's father from genealogical society: 25 cents/page
  • Probate for Mary's father from genealogical society: 25 cents/page
  • Death certificate for Mary's brother from state archives: 25 cents 
  • Obituary for Mary's great-grandnephew from library: $7
  • Deeds signed by Mary and siblings from county courthouse: $2/page
  • Probate for Mary's brother from county courthouse: $1/page
  • Criminal court case for Mary's nephew from county courthouse: $1/page
  • Marriage license for Mary's aunt from county courthouse: $12

What about the Civil War pension files for Mary and her husband, George M. Neff? We've seen index cards in two online collections, but the pension files themselves have not been microfilmed. Copies of the original pension files from NARA cost $75 for the first 100 pages and may take a year to be be copied and made available. It's a huge gamble with a huge price tag. If the files contain Mary's Bible records, the cost might be worth it. To George and Mary's descendants, it certainly might be worth it. For me, $150 is not cost effective.

You can see that copies from record collections managed by societies and archives can be much more reasonable to purchase than copies of records held in government collections. Reach out to local societies. They often have family files and indexes that you can use at their facility or that they will use to do lookups at a minimal cost to you.

Field trips are a favorite strategy for me to visit societies and courthouses. But if a field trip isn't in your plans, you can borrow microfilm of some records at your local Family History Center or through OCLC.

Record collections are somewhat random. You'll never know what's available until you look for the offline iceberg.

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