If you are having trouble finding information for your LDS family search, I have a few suggestions that will help you become a more successful genealogist. Before you speak with a records clerk to request a record, check Internet resources, libraries, local historical and genealogical societies, etc., to find out if the records for which you are looking have been either published online, or on microfilm. In most cases, if the records themselves aren’t published online, microfilm, or as original documents, the record indexes may be accessible through one or more of these formats. If you have information from a published index, such as book title, volume and page numbers, the clerk will be able to help you find the records you need more quickly.
Exhaust All Avenues First
Before you contact a repository, such as a historical society or research library for your LDS family search, it is important to do some research about the repository online. By reading the information you find about your chosen repository, you can find out more about their facility rules and policies, and even download brochures by learning more about the repository, you may discover that you will need to call them and make an appointment to view records, there may be time limits for research, you may only be allowed a certain number of copies of important documents, or they may charge a nominal research fee. Make sure to email or send any written requests you have through the regular mail to the company’s specific mailing address, instead of using a general email or mailbox address, as you will have direct contact with a repository staff person. Check for the repository’s hours of operation, because there may be holidays, scheduled closings, and furlough days when it may be closed. If the repository doesn’t have a web site, you may need to contact them by phone to request brochures and other informational materials sent to you by mail.
Contacting a Repository
If you must contact a repository by phone, make your call as brief as possible. Make your request to the volunteer or receptionist, so that he or she can direct your call to the correct research assistant. Often times, volunteers answer the phones at these organizations and may not have any information about the collections housed in the facility. Once you have been transferred to the person who can best help you with your request, make your request as brief as possible. However, if the request is very detailed or lengthy, send it to the repository via email or to their mailing address. Most libraries, historical societies, county clerk’s offices, and other repositories have an email address or online request form for you to fill out. When emailing your request, be sure to use a brief, but concise subject to briefly explain your request. After making your request in the body of your message, be sure to include your contact information, including phone number, email address, and mailing address so that the staff member can get in touch with you if they have any questions about your request. If you do not give a mailing address, the research assistant or county clerk will assume you live in the area, and will suggest local resources for you to use as part of your LDS family search. It is best to avoid using all caps when making your request via email, as this will cause the person handling your request to think you are shouting your request, trying to get attention, or are unfamiliar with technology as a whole. You want your request to look positive and professional, so it is best to use both upper and lower case letters to communicate what you need to the person assisting you.
Using Mail to Contact Repository
Sometimes the best way to present your request to the repository is through snail mail. By this I mean sending a letter through the U.S. mail. Most of the time, county clerks, state, and local government offices are too busy to respond to an email, so a letter is the best way to get the information you need. When writing a request letter to an organization, be sure to make your request as clear as possible, so that the repository staff will understand what you need. In your letter, include contact information as you would in an email, so the researcher can contact you if he or she has any additional questions. If you are enclosing any photos, or other information to help the researcher find what you are looking for, be sure to note that in the letter. It is important to send a self-addressed stamped envelope with your letter, so the researcher can send the information back to you that you have requested. It is often polite to send a small donation to the repository for their services. Let them know in your correspondence that you will cover any fees that may occur for the researcher’s services. Small donations to the organization will help them continue to provide the services to you and other genealogists in the vicinity.
Here are a few tips for formulating your request either by mail or email to a repository. For the greeting, instead of using “dear sir:” it is best to use the person’s name if you know the researcher. However, if you do not know who will be assisting you, you could begin your letter to the research department, or repository staff. The reason you don’t use dear sir, is because the office may only have females working or volunteering and they may be offended by that greeting. Once you have begun the letter, request specific information about your family, such as ancestors’ names, places of residents, correct dates, and any other information you may have that will be helpful to the researcher. Researchers who work for repositories have a tendency to conduct the research for you if they believe that you are a serious genealogist, and not just searching for information for your family tree as a hobby or pastime. Often times, genealogical researchers may volunteer at the local historical society or library. They may find more information than you need or want, then charge you a fee for their time and any copies they made. When writing a research request, make sure you only ask for one or two pieces of information at a time, as multiple requests may be returned with no results. Sometimes the helpful volunteers who research the information you request may uncover some useful information that you didn’t expect when you made your request. Be prepared to cover any fees for the researcher’s time, copies, and even postage if necessary.
If you are ordering copies of records online for your LDS family search, please note that you only need a notarized statement to order these records only if you are requesting certified copies. This is not the case for copies of records ordered for research purposes. When you are ordering copies of records online, be sure to check the check box that asks if the information is for genealogical research purposes, or it will be assumed that you need a certified copy of the records, and the request application will be returned if it is not notarized. Some state and local offices require that you send an S.A.S.E when making a written request. Read any instructions that are provided on the printed request form, or the web site for more details. If the repository staff has the information you need for your LDS family search, but doesn’t have the man power to do the research for you, ask them if they have any recommendations for a professional genealogist in your area. You can also find a professional researcher by checking the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), and the Board for the certification of genealogists (BCG) web sites. Each site has an online database of genealogists and family researchers who specialize in researching your specific area. It is helpful to read APG’s pamphlet on hiring a professional researcher before you contact a genealogist to learn how to find and request the services of a professional researcher.
Hiring A Professional Researcher
Find out if the professional you wish to work with has a business web site. When you visit the business web site of a professional genealogist, you can find out what fees they charge for their services, their hours of operation, and what areas of research they specialize in. Once you have found a researcher who can work with you, send them an email with a detailed request, but do not make it too lengthy, with your contact information. He or she may call you with further questions. If this is the case, let the researcher know what you have already researched, so that you don’t have duplicate information.
Once you have made your request, it is important to wait patiently for the results.
County clerks, and other records administrators or research staff may be extremely busy, and it could take weeks or months for you to get results back. If you haven’t received any results in a month or longer, be sure to send a reminder letter or email asking why you haven’t received anything back yet. Sometimes requests may accidentally get thrown away or deleted if they are sent by email. Be sure to send a thank you note to the researcher who has assisted you with your LDS family search, even if the researcher doesn’t find what you need. A heart felt thank you email or letter also lets the clerk or researcher know that you received the information they sent. However, if the information you receive doesn’t have a source citation, be sure to ask for this information so you can cite it in your family tree. Make sure you get as much information about the source as possible so you can go back to it if needed in future as well as citing it in your family history. If you receive a notice that says “record not found,” that doesn’t always mean that the record doesn’t exist. Some records may be overlooked by an inexperienced researcher, because they may be hard to read. Keep looking for the records that aren’t found by a volunteer researcher at first.
Now that you have several tools under your belt to help you prepare for working with a clerk or researcher, you will be greatly rewarded with the information you have received. Finding contact information, learning about the repository, knowing how to formulate your written or email request, having the patience to await your results, and following up with a heartfelt thank you letter, and asking for additional information if needed, will help you find what you need for your genealogical research.