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A Genealogist In The Archives: Overwhelmed at the Archives

Monday, November 7, 2016

Overwhelmed at the Archives

Since I became an archivist six years ago, I have had the pleasure of meeting genealogists, historians and other types of researchers. I have met them in person at the Houston County (TN) Archives, by telephone while they are making records requests and by email while doing the same. I always stand at the ready to help each and very researcher anyway I can and to find the records they are seeking.

Inside the stacks at the Stewart County, TN. Archives

One emotion that I encounter more times than not when a genealogist walks in the archives door is that feeling of being overwhelmed. They don't even have to say a word, I can see it on their face and feel it when they speak. I can truly relate to this emotion because years ago when I was a beginning genealogist, I would get so overwhelmed when I walked into an archive. I truly have empathy for those that are intimidated and overwhelmed by entering an archive.

Irish Celebration Manuscript Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

Since 2015, I have been actively educating the genealogist through webinars, lectures, writing quickguides and just talking to genealogists on Facebook, Twitter and by email about researching in libraries and archives. The most important tip I can give anyone is to plan ahead before actually traveling to an archive.

  • Call the archive and make sure they are going to be open on the day of your visit. Ask them about the availability of parking. These seem like simple steps but they will help the genealogist know what to expect and to not be caught off guard which could cause you to become overwhelmed.

  • If the archives has a website, check it to see if they list what records they have available. Search their website for any indexes that might have records of interest and make notes about what is found in the index to take with you to the archive.

  • Make a "To-Do List". This tip is highly recommended. If you have your to-do list in front of you and stick to it, becoming overwhelmed may not occur. Address each item on the to-do list, one at a time, moving through the list methodically.

  • When you walk into the archive, stay focused, try not to let the enormity of the facility overtake you. You are there on a mission and you want to accomplish that mission.

  • Talk to the archivist, tell them what you are looking for. Do not say "I want everything for the Smith family", rather, ask for specific records for your ancestors.

  • Don't me upset if you don't finish your to-do list. Some items take more time to research and we need to spend that time to research completely and properly.

These are just a few tips to help you not become overwhelmed when you walk into an archive. If you would like more tips and helps on visiting libraries and archives, you can get these great resources:

Legacy Family Tree Webinar:

"Researching in Libraries and Archives: The Do's and Don'ts"

Legacy QuickGuide on Amazon Kindle

"Researching in Libraries and Archives"