During your LDS family search, you may happen to discover a diary or a bundle of letters written about your ancestors by their neighbours, friends, and other acquaintances. Your ancestors lived in neighbourhoods where they were in constant communication with store owners, school teachers, clergy, or members of their local church, and midwives or in some cases, country doctors. You may even stumble upon documents left behind by your ancestors, or they may even be mentioned by their friends and neighbours in their manuscripts.
What Is a Manuscript?
Letters and diaries or journals can be considered manuscript documentation. Although a manuscript is considered an author’s original writing before it is presented to a publisher for publication; however, when repositories refer to manuscripts or collections of manuscripts, they are referring to unpublished documents such as letters, diaries, journals, and other such documents. Other items that fall under the category of manuscripts, other than letters and diaries include: autograph and photo albums, birthday books, business correspondences and other official documents, maps, church and other membership records, and scrapbooks. If these documents are unpublished, or if they are part of a person’s records, they are considered manuscripts. Manuscripts can be written by government officials, churches and/or other religious organizations, membership groups such as clubs or societies, businesses, non-profit organizations, family members, and friends or acquaintances, and individuals. These types of manuscripts can be located in places such as museums, all types of libraries, genealogical and historical societies, county and state archives facilities and other such repositories.
Searching for information about your ancestors in manuscripts is much different than searching through genealogical databases online, or through indexes at local repositories. When searching for your ancestors through traditional genealogical databases, you can search for the surname, specific dates and locations to find what you are looking for. However, when researching catalogues of manuscripts, searching for a particular surname won’t be as helpful for you during your LDS family search. Library catalogues are categorized by title, subject, author’s name, Reference number, (for non-fiction titles), and keywords. The catalogues aren’t searchable by each word in a book or magazine, and manuscript research is the same way. You will want to broaden your LDS family search beyond the ancestor’s surname, unless there were some documents he or she specifically wrote, such as a diary, letter, or other business document. You may want to try searching for the places your ancestors lived, members of their family, the schools they attended and possibly graduated from, churches and other clubs or membership groups they were associated with, their specific occupations , and whether or not they served in the military, when and where they served. In order to find these people, you may have to search for the people they worked for and/or with, such as military officers, employers, school teachers or administrators, etc., to find where your ancestors were mentioned. Although your ancestors may not have been mentioned by name in these manuscripts, you will be able to learn a bit more about their lives through these other records.
Solid Keyword Research
Now that you have discovered which keywords to search for, you will want to find local repositories that preserve these types of manuscripts. For instance, search for public, academic, city, county, and state libraries ; genealogical and historical societies, museums; and city, county, and state archives that house manuscripts and other such official documents which are still in existence and are located in the places where your ancestors once lived and conducted their daily lives. Libcat is a web site that can help you find listings of libraries that house ancient manuscripts in their collections. Although this web site is primarily for libraries throughout the United States, you may be able to find a few libraries in other countries as well. Begin your LDS family search along these lines, by searching for a specific state, and then search for libraries of special interest within that state. The web site will give hyperlinks to each particular library’s individual web site, so you can get more information about the library itself. If you are unsure of what other repositories house ancient manuscripts, try visiting web sites such as repositories of primary resources, or Columbia University’s manuscript collections throughout the United States. Genealogical and historical societies may house special manuscript collections as well. Check the Federation of genealogical societies’ society hall web site for a list of societies along with mailing addresses, and links to their web sites.
Another way to find manuscripts is by searching through Union catalogues, which contain indexes of collections from many different libraries, museums, and other repositories in a single resource. The world Cat catalogue is the ideal place to start, because it has billions of items listed in over ten thousand libraries around the world. We typically think that libraries are places that house books, magazines, and newspapers; however, in the World cat catalogue, you will find listings of dissertations, photos, and archival collections, among other things. You can narrow your research to only include maps, or other particular archives. Two other catalogues you can search online are the National Union Catalogue of Manuscript collections (NUCMC), which is an index of manuscripts located in many different repositories throughout the United States; and Archive Grid, which is a primary source for manuscripts housed in repositories around the world. Archive Grid was only accessible within a repository at one time, but now has a platform which makes it accessible to users in their own homes. Unlike NUCMC, Archive Grid may have listings of manuscripts that have records of your ancestors who resided outside the United States altogether. These are just a few of the many Union catalogues available to genealogists; however, some catalogues only have listings for digital manuscripts, which will allow you to view, and/or download photos and other images online.
Now that you have some resources to help you with your LDS family search, utilize these listings to find online databases, and conduct specific keyword searches to help you find the most productive information within these manuscripts that make mention of your ancestors. Remember that the manuscripts you are searching for were written during the time periods in which your ancestors lived. Although it takes much more time and effort to find any information about your ancestors within these manuscripts, the time and effort you put into your LDS family search will be more rewarding, when you can find these missing pieces of your family history.
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