How To Research Your Ancestors in a Location You Cannot Visit
Genealogy Research,  How To

How To Research Your Ancestors in a Location You Cannot Visit

You have heard it before – Not all (actually, MOST) genealogy records are not online.

For instance, tax records are among some of my favorite records to research, but they are not online. (I don’t like paying taxes, but I love the records they generate!)

Guardianship records are another set of records that are particularly useful. Again, often these are not online.

Unfortunately, those records seem to be where I am not.

Traveling to multiple repositories is time consuming and expensive.

So, how do we as genealogists access those much needed records?

Let’s take a look at a few ideas.

Networking  Genealogy Style

Most of us are familiar with networking within our professional lives. Making connections and building relationships within your profession helps you to be successful in reaching your professional goals.

The same concept applies in genealogy research.  Build relationships with fellow researchers in areas where your ancestors lived and you need to research. (Of course, reciprocate for others who need help in your location!)

   
  • Post a query in online genealogy forums (Example: GenForum). Search for a location based forum and post your question.
  • Contact a state and/or local genealogy society. Often local genealogy societies have members who are willing to do look-ups for out of town researchers.  Local genealogy society can also have unusual and interesting records on families in their area. Ask what they have in their collections! I have found everything from church directories/minutes to other genealogists’ research notes.
  • Talk to the local public librarian. Librarians may have the information you need or know with whom you should talk.
  • Talk to the county clerk’s office in the county you are researching. Staff  can tell you what they have and do not have at the courthouse. Sometimes, older records may be transferred to a state archives and the originals are not kept in the courthouse. Staff in more rural courthouses tend to “know everybody”.  Make friends and see who they recommend you talk to.

Order the Microfilm

I just have to ask. Does anyone else get motion sick reading microfilm? That might be more than you want to know about me. 🙂

Microfilm was a mainstay in the genealogist’s research before we had home computers. It still is for many types of records.

  • The Family History Library (FHL) is the most recognized source for genealogy microfilm records. View their catalog  for records in your interested location(s).  UPDATE: FHL IS NO LONGER TAKING ORDERS FOR MICROFILM.
  • Inter-library Loan – Talk with your librarian about how to find and request your needed records.
  • WorldCat – Search for family history books, collections of family papers, and just about anything you can think of in print. You may find a library or repository close to your location with a copy. Many are available for inter-library loan.

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Other Resources

  • Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness (ROGK) ROGK is a great resource for genealogists. Volunteers perform look ups for individuals who do not have easy access to the records in their area.  You do need to sign in and after that, you are set to search for a volunteer in the location you are researching. Be sure and read their guidelines before you get started. Consider becoming a volunteer yourself!
  • Hire a professional genealogist – Hiring a professional is sometimes the best way to get the records you need searched and an analysis of what is found (or not found). I recommend using a genealogist who is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.   APG members adhere to a certain code of ethics in their businesses. State archives will often have a list of professional genealogists who specialize in their state records. (And if you need help in North Carolina or Virginia, visit my research services page.)

Just because you cannot go to the location of your ancestors to perform research, does not mean you have no options for research.  You just have to be creative.

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You have heard it before - Not all (actually, MOST) genealogy records are not online. Unfortunately, those records seem to be where I am not. Traveling to multiple repositories is time consuming and expensive. So, how do we as genealogists access those much needed records?
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