LDS family search usually revolves around an ancestor’s birth, marriage, death, and census records. Once you find these records, the ideal step to take would be going back to the next generation, right? Not necessarily. These records are important, yes; however, there are more ways to find interesting information about your ancestors than simply looking for it online. The best possible resource for finding information about your ancestors, including a few birth, marriage, and death records, is through special collections. If you have come to a dead end in your research, or you want to fully study the life of a particular ancestor, why not look through a repository’s archives for this information.
If you are looking for anything from photos, to diaries and letters, to maps and anything else in between, a repository or institution will preserve these items in their special collections. Some archives often house notices and articles clipped from newspapers, obituaries, and other records of special interest to your LDS family search. If you have an ancestor, or if his or her family were prominent members of a community, then these ancestors may have records in special collections. Prominent doesn’t always mean that the ancestor was rich or exceedingly wealthy; this could simply mean that the person played a big part in helping build a community, or facilitating major community projects. If this is the case, then you will want to look for any records about your ancestors in special collections.
Where to Find Special Collections
If you are wondering where to find special collections, check the following places in your chosen geographical area where your ancestors once lived. You may find at least one institution that houses special collections in these locations. Many colleges and universities have magnificent libraries, some of which house special collections that can help you in your LDS family search, and be a valuable research tool for many people in their communities. Many public libraries have archives that are available to genealogists that are located outside their normal circulation collections. If your local library, or the library you are interested in visiting is part of a network of libraries, plan a field trip to the main branch of the library network where you wish to view the special collections. The storage and preservation of special artefacts is often the responsibility of local and national museums. These museums often preserve artefacts and other special archives that are essential to genealogical research. While you are visiting the museum, browse their library and search for slave trade and immigration records, steam ship passenger lists, naval vessels, and military history records to name a few of the various collections available.
State and Regional Archives
Special collections archives can also be found through state and regional archives. Here you can find your specific state and local newspaper databases where you can find an ancestor’s obituary, and any other special notices about your ancestors, and articles where they are mentioned. Some state archives may contain pension records for those who served in the military during the civil war, or one of many conflicts and wars that took place over the years. Finding repositories that house special collections may be a bit challenging, but the work you put into finding these rare treasures will be richly rewarding for you in the end, when you find the information you are searching for to add to your family tree. Once you find a college/university, public library, museum, and/or state/regional archives repository, visits your chosen repository’s website for more information about the specific collections they have. When looking for these special collections, remember that a listing for them could be hidden among many other links on a repository’s home page. While browsing the website, search for keywords such as archives or collections. Take a closer look at each link on the homepage, so you don’t overlook any archives or special collections the organization may have among their collections. Many institutions that house special collections have finding aids for their archives, with a description and other important information about the group or category of archives that are available to genealogists, which can help you search the archives for the records you need for your LDS family search.
Remember to check the finding aids for each record category in the archives of a repository. If it is a large organization, this can be time consuming, but the information you will find is well worth the time and effort you put into this task. While checking the finding aids for these repositories, make a list of the records you wish to review in person. Your list should include record titles, record numbers, (if shown) and any other information you will need to help you find the records of interest to you at the repository itself. It is important to write down any information you are looking for before you visit the facility, because you want to spend your time wisely in researching the records, not searching for specific records, which could have been done in the comfort of your own home.
Arrange a Viewing
Once you have found out whether or not a specific repository houses a special collection that you are interested in viewing, be sure to call or email the repository staff to make sure you can access this information, and that it is still available for viewing. When you contact the repository staff, make sure that the public are allowed to view these special collections, so you don’t make a wasted trip to the facility. Find out the repository’s hours of operations, because some repositories may have different viewing hours for their special collections then the hours for the main facility such as a public library. If you are viewing special collections at a college or university, find out at what times they are closed for holidays, and breaks in between terms. It is important to find out what types of tools are permitted when visiting a repository. Some organizations only allow you to bring a note pad and pen with you, while others may allow technological equipment such as a lap top computer, digital camera, or hand held device for taking notes. While we are on the subject of technology, find out if there is a scanner available for public use. Ask the repository staff if you can bring along a flash drive or external hard drive that you can use to save information for your LDS family search. Find out if they have copy machines. If this is the case, be sure to bring a little money along to pay for individual copies, or for a copy card to access the machines.
If you drive to the repository, find out about visitor parking rates, and the locations of visitor parking. If your repository of choice is in a large city, or located on a large university campus, visit their web site before you go, to view a parking map, and their parking rates. In some cases you may have to park a few blocks from the facility itself. While you are getting parking information, search the map for restaurants, or stores, or snack bars where you can purchase a meal or snacks and drinks. You may also find a shady area where you can take a break or sit to review your notes before digging further into the archive. Once you have planned your field trip to a special collections repository, there are a few things to consider.
Ask for Help If You need it
The rules for common courtesy in a library apply to special collections, so be sure to take their time and research space into consideration during your LDS family search. Don’t hesitate to ask a staff person for assistance in finding the items you are interested in reviewing for your family tree, and be sure to do your homework before you make the trip to a special collections repository. Knowing what you are looking for, where to find it, the rules for the organization and any other important information before you make a genealogy field trip will help you make the most out of your visit.