Monday, December 5, 2011
Getting Local with Research
I know some people feel differently and would rather exhaust the resources on microfilm before having to look elsewhere. If I lived in Salt Lake City I would probably feel that way. Anyone with access to the vast collections at the Family History Library would surely have a preference for microfilm.
I straddle two research worlds - that of house historian and genealogist. When I began to focus and specialize on house histories my point of view began to change. When I read In Small Things Forgotten by James Deetz my thoughts regarding how to view and conduct research changed even further.
Instead of tracing people strictly through documents I began to want to explore and understand their world more. When you are a house historian this is a very easy thing to do because all the research, primarily, is focused on one town.
material culture and wanted to be able to find and touch the objects that my ancestors or research targets had touched. These include historic homes that are still standing in the towns they lived in and the gravestones in the cemeteries. It also includes church buildings, commercial buildings, stone walls, town pounds, old pathways and forgotten railway tracks. It can even include oil paintings and antique furniture.
Along the way I discovered that good family history research is really a combination of archival research (tracing the documents) and material culture research (exploring the physical objects).
As I got local to look for houses and gravestones I also discovered that an awful lot of unique archival documents are hiding themselves away in Town Hall basements, historical societies, town libraries, private collections and manuscript collections. These documents can take the researcher through brick walls and beyond to help put your ancestor into proper context.
That, of course (hopefully, as it did for me) will lead researchers to local history (as well as regional and national history) to better understand the events that surrounded and impacted their ancestors lives.
Wrap all this together and what do you get? Locally focused research. Some people refer to this as location based research.
I have to admit that conducting locally based research has so affected my point of view that it has impacted my ability and desire to do research on my far flung ancestors in New York, Pennsylvania and beyond.
I really have a strong desire to visit the town(s) of my research. I don't feel settled until I've done it. This was the case recently when I working on finding Nathan Brown's parents. I had to visit Warren, Rhode Island and Charlton, Massachusetts and see the towns as he saw them and walk the streets and meander through the cemetery.
A lot of people will disagree with me that this is necessary for genealogical research. And for strictly genealogical research that's true. But for myself, I can't be satisfied that I really understand what I am researching until I get local.
Posted by Marian Pierre-Louis at 9:50 AM