May 4, 2010

A Day at the Library: Tips for a Successful Library Trip

I recently spent the day at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland.  It has been some time since I have visited a library to research.  I truly enjoyed a day to myself in the library.  I especially love the Carnegie Library.   It is a wonderful old historical building with so much to offer. 

The goal for my trip was to obtain obituaries.  I had done a thorough on line search for the obituaries I needed and still ended up with a list of about 80 people for the library.  This sounds a bit overwhelming but the key to a successful library trip is organization.  I had much success in finding the obituaries I needed.  I was thrilled to find one for my great, great, great, Grandfather Martin Orth.  

Here are my tips for making the most of your time and efforts on a research trip to the library.

The most important thing you can do prepare.  Decide how much time you will spend in the library and then choose the specific items you wish to research.  Be realistic about time.  Searching through countless reels of microfilm is time consuming (believe me!).  Also factor some time in for a break or two.  You can start to go cross eyed looking at microfilm or viewing old documents. 

Go over your notes the night before to be sure you have all the information you will need.  Take a notebook, folder (for copies), pencils (some libraries only allow you to use pencils around certain documents), and change for the copy machine.

If you are not familiar with the library call ahead of time to verify their hours of operation as well as their holdings.  Be sure they have the documents you want.  Also ask about any indexes available.  Checking the obituary index saved me hours of search time during my trip.

Organize Your Notes
Make sure your notes are organized so you can easily find what you want.  I had two sheets of notes for my trip.  One sheet had my names by date of death for those not in the index years.  The second sheet for the index years had my names alphabetically.  I easily went through the alphabetical index because the names on my sheet were listed alphabetically. 

Have Plan of Action
Make a list of what you want to accomplish.  Put the items most important to you at the top of the list and do them first.  My first goal was to search the obituary index for all the deaths occurring in the index years.  My second goal was to search for the actual obituaries by date.  My third goal was to search the marriage index.  Be realistic, you probably will not accomplish everything.  I achieved my first goal.  But only was able to find 3 actual obituaries and never got to the marriage index.  But on my next trip I will not have to search the index.

I was fortunate to have the day to myself.  But if you are taking someone with you, especially children plan ahead.  You can make a list of things older children may be able to help you with.  They do actually like this because it makes them feel important.  Younger children (or those just NOT INTERESTED!) should have a bag of activities.  Some suggestions are books to read, paper to draw and color, even a DS game as long as the sound remains off.  Offering a treat such as lunch out or a trip to the children’s section when you are finished can motivate them to be cooperative.

Take Good Notes
It is imperative that you take good notes during your research.  In the past I have scribbled down notes—perfectly clear to me at the time—only to not understand what I wrote weeks later.

Make sure you take plenty of paper for note taking.  It is best to make copies of documents whenever possible so there is no error in transcribing.  Use your judgment, if you only need to copy a line or two of text it might save time (and change!) to handwrite it. Just take the time to do it neatly and exactly as it appears in the original.   I did this on my obituary trip.  All of the obits I found were only a few lines.  Since they were on microfilm, making them an ordeal to copy because you had use a special copier, it was much easier and less time consuming to transcribe. 

Take the time to note your sources, you will appreciate it later.  Take the time to copy all the information for the source.  Just don’t write—obit in Pittsburgh Press Paper.  Record the date, page number, and microfilm number if applicable.  You or anyone else can easily find the original at a later time if necessary.

Ask For Help If You Need It
Even after countless library trips over the years I still struggle with the microfilm machines.  I finally got smart this last trip and asked for help using them as soon as I arrived.  This saved me a tremendous amount of time.  Do not waste your precious research time searching for the location of the record you need or struggling with a machine.  Many libraries have volunteer genealogists or members from different genealogical societies.  They can assist and give you helpful information that you did not even think to ask about.

Many libraries also have information sheets available at the librarian’s desk that lists their holdings and the location.  For example the list of newspapers on microfilm, list of indexes, city directories, etc. which will make your research easier and can give you clues of other records to search for your information.

Last But Not Least—Enjoy Yourself!
I look at my trips to libraries as an adventure.  I especially love visiting new libraries.  Most of us do this research because we enjoy it so your trip to the library should be enjoyable.  Granted, it can be frustrating when you do not find what you want.  I must admit I was a bit disappointed that the obits I found only contained a few lines with no places of burial listed.  But I was thrilled to find as many ancestors as I did in the obit index.  Remember every bit of information can be a clue that will lead you to something even more exciting and bigger.  I was amazed to learn that my great Aunt Roxanna’s real name was Ida (from her obit).  I heard countless stories about her but never did anyone say her name was Ida.  This may help me find her in the 1930 census and lead me to her place of burial.

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