Sunday, June 24, 2012

First Steps to Prepare for a Research Trip to Chicago

The first thing I do when planning a research trip is to identify the sites (libraries, courthouses, cemeteries, etc.) I want to visit. My first step in creating a schedule of visitation is to consult the websites of each venue to find out the days open and operating hours. Instead of merely making a list of sites and operating times, I put the information on a calendar. To find a calendar that is fillable, I went to Microsoft office templates. I like the visual picture this gives me, and it serves as the first step in planning my itinerary.

 Then I want to check google maps to further block out my trip – I used this tool to see which sites are close to each other, which places are outliers and might require more travel time, etc. I can then pencil in the order in which I might visit certain sites.

My next step is to fill out a Repository Checklist for each site that I plan to visit. I found this gem of a tool, created by Brenda Leyndyke, on her blog, “Journey to the Past,” which anyone is permitted to use. For each site I jot down basic information (parking information, telephone number, types of holdings etc.) on my checklist. Here is an example of my checklist for the Newberry Library:

REPOSITORY:  The Newberry Library


60 West Walton St, Chicago, IL 60610

Admission Cost

Contact Information

Reference and Genealogy Services Section

  • Autumn Mather, Reference Services Librarian, Reference Team Leader, (312) 255-3675
  • Grace Dumelle, Genealogy and Local History Library Assistant, (312) 255-3530


(see attached sheet)

Holidays Closed

Labor Day: Saturday, Sept 1 and Monday, Sept 3


Monday, Reading Rooms closed; Tuesday – Friday, open 9-5; Saturday – open 9-1
Tour the library Saturdays 10:30 am and Thursdays 3:00 pm

(See attached sheet)

Parking Costs
(See attached sheet)

Photocopy Costs
Each exposure $.40. Manuscript collections $1.00 per folder.

Photocopy Policy
Newberry staff makes all photocopies. 30 pgs only from any given volume or manuscript collection. Can’t be photocopied: newspapers, telephone directories, materials that don’t fit in confines of copier (11 by 7 maximum)

Research Restrictions
Lockers are available on the first floor to store items not allowed in Reading Rooms. (See attached sheet)

Special Information
Must obtain a Reader’s Card before using services (see attached sheet)


Used by permission of Brenda Leyndyke from her blog, “Journey to the Past” 10/2011

  If you keep these checklists by day of visit in a 3-ring binder, you will easily be able to locate pertinent details for the day’s travels. As you enjoy your breakfast, you will be very happy to have all the necessary information at your fingertips to get you where you want to be.

My next step in getting ready to visit Chicago was to search for books on how/where to conduct genealogical research in this city. I found two on that looked especially helpful and were available in inexpensive used copies in good condition.

The first book is Finding Your Chicago Ancestors by Grace DuMelle.  Ms. Dumelle is a librarian at the Newberry Library, specializing in genealogy and Chicago history. Part I of the book is organized around nine questions that you might ask yourself about your target ancestor’s life from place of birth to family members to addresses and date of death. Then for each question, Ms. DuMelle suggests types of records that might hold the answers. I’ve really taken to heart her advice on p. 15: “All of the sources for genealogical research mentioned so far are fallible.” So often, we find different dates for the same event in an ancestor’s life on different documents. This just means we have more work to do.

The second part of Finding Your Chicago Ancestors is called “Practical Advice”, and my favorite section is Chapter 14: “What to Expect at Chicago-Area Research Facilities.” Not only does Ms. DuMelle mention the top sites to research but she provides you a dress rehearsal before your visit: photographs of each facility and descriptions of holdings and services. Since the book was published in 2005, you will want to check each facility website for any changes or additions.

The second book that I found very useful is Chicago &Cook County: A Guide to Research by  Loretto Dennis Szucs who among her other qualifications worked at the National Archives -- Great Lakes Region. The main organizational rubric is by record type or record repository. Since I am researching my Irish Catholic Carney/Kearney line in Chicago, I found a particular list very helpful: “Chicago Catholic Parishes to 1875” pgs. 139-140 in Section 11 “Church and Religious Records.”

Because Chicago was known for its neighborhoods in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (and still is today), it’s helpful to know the area(s) where your ancestors lived. For example, I have been told that the South Chicago Irish and the North Chicago Irish remained on their own side of the Madison Street boundary. Section 12 of Ms. Szucs book “Communities and Neighborhoods in Chicago” provides a good introduction to this subject.

So let’s go over the first steps in planning a successful research trip. Once you have mapped out the operating days and hours of the sites you plan to visit, you can start formulating an itinerary for your trip. I suggest putting a Research Repositories Checklist for each site you plan to visit as the first thing in your trip binder. The next step is reading up on the cities or towns you plan to visit. I began with the internet and found two great books on Chicago on Of course, a visit to the website of each research site is a must to find the most up-to-date information.

Categories: genealogy education, genealogy tools, genealogy professional, research terms

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Using Research Logs and other Charts to Track Your Sources

In my post from June 1, 2012, I briefly mentioned research logs and where to find them on the web. But these had to be printed and filled in by hand. Just yesterday I found an on-screen fillable and savable research log created by the folks at Brigham State University. I had seen the same form on the site of the 1997 Ancestors TV series but it was not savable. However, this site has several very useful forms for conducting research that I will discuss in this post.

One step in my preparation for an upcoming research trip to Chicago (third week of Sept, 2012) is to have a research log showing the sources that I have consulted so far and what I have discovered. The log will also show the questions that still need answers.

At the Ancestors TV site, I found a Research Questions log that serves as a lead-in to the research log. It is a brainstorming tool to help you focus on the areas you want to explore in an ancestor’s life, the questions you are seeking answers to in your search, and the possible sources that might have this information.

A third research chart that appears on the Ancestor TV site is Source Notes This chart makes it easy to document each source that you find and provides lots of space to record the information found.

You can be sure that I am going to make several copies of these forms to use in my upcoming trip to Chicago. When I locate my first source at the Newberry Library or other research site, I can pull out my Source Notes form to record the information. Use of this form will prevent me from jotting down notes on random sheets of paper. With these three forms, the researcher can achieve an organizational level that will guarantee a more successful search.

Categories: genealogy education, research terms

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Swiss Research Resources Part I: Where to look when all you have is a name

Although there is much written on German research sources, I have not found the same amount of space given to Switzerland sources in webinars or at conferences. I decided to do a Google search and came up with several rich Swiss research source and “how-to” sites.

The first document that I would like to recommend is a research guide from Brigham Young University. A portion of the text was actually a 1969 presentation by Professor Dr. C.H. (Hans Conrad) Peyer, former professor at Zurich University in Switzerland, at the World Conference on Records and Genealogical Seminar, titled “Genealogical Research Sources in Switzerland.” Another portion, “Using Swiss Reference & Research Tools” was written by Barbara W. Whiting.

Dr. Peyer knows how to help the novice doing Swiss research, the person who has a target name but little else. He recommends Familiennamenbuchder Schweiz, translated into English as the Swiss Surname Book. Peyer says this source, first published in 1940, is an alphabetical list of Swiss surnames “with reference to which cantons 
and counties they appear in, and since when. This book is really a key to Swiss genealogy.”

I immediately went to the Family History Library catalog to see if the Swiss Surname Book is available on microfiche for loan. The film number is 6053507 and can now be ordered on-line.

After I had placed my order, I did some more on-line searching and found that The Swiss Center of North America  has put a searchable database of the (all/a portion of?) Swiss Surname Book on its site. I found a whole page of Kreises and most were in the canton of Thurgau.

Another tool is at that shows a surname distribution map  created from telephone numbers and address databases for a target name in any country on the list provided. I found that the highest concentration of Kreises was in Thurgau, in two cities that were twenty miles apart: Amriswil and Tagerwilen.

Once you have identified the canton (district) from which your ancestor came, Peyer says “for information concerning the time before 1876, (one) should write to the state archives of the canton.” What is the significance of the 1876 date?

In his book, A Sourcebook for genealogical research, Foster Stockwell explains that before 1876, the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Switzerland registered births, marriages and deaths for their congregants. After 1876, this function was ceded to the canton civil government. Church records from 1834-1875 “were given to the registrar’s office in each of the cantons.”

Since Johannes Ulrich Kreis emigrated from Thurgau, Switzerland in 1866, I googled the “State Archives of Thurgau, Switzerland.” 
I composed a letter to the State Archives in which I presented the pertinent facts I know about Johannes Ulrich Kreis (I have very few): his birth date as given on various documents, his date/port of arrival in the US, and his port of embarkation in Europe and asked if they had any records matching this man. I am very fortunate to have a spouse who is a native German speaker. He kindly translated the letter into German for me. When I hear back from the Archives, I will post my findings.

On the subject of whom to write to for information if you know the canton, Barbara Whiting differs from Dr. Peyer. When you are looking for emigration records, Whiting suggests “For information before 1848 write to the state archive of the canton; after 1848 write to the Swiss National Archives. 1848 is a seminal date in Swiss history as that is the year when the Swiss voted-in a constitution to establish a national government.

With just a change of address, I can use my first letter to the Thurgau State Archives and send it to the National Swiss Archives.

Don’t forget about the “backdoor approach” to identifying your ancestor’s canton that I discussed in a post dated February 1, 2012.

To those new to Swiss genealogical research, I hope this post gives you a starting place. When all you have is a target name, like I had with Johannes Ulrich Kreis, you have several sources to help you zero in on the canton(s) where this name may have started and where it appears today. Once you have the canton, you are off and running. You can proceed with the next step of Swiss research which I will cover in Part II.

Categories: genealogy tools

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Webinar for the Genealogist with New York Forebears

On May 30, 2012, Legacy Family Tree presented one of its series of free webinars: “Researching Your New York Ancestors” by ThomasMacEntee. It is available at Legacy Family Tree for free viewing until June 11, 2012.
Thomas MacEntee is well known as the host of Geneabloggers Radio, a radio show devoted to genealogy. He has 60 shows available at geneabloggers website that cover a wide range of topics. And listening to Thomas is a wonderful way to increase your knowledge and add resources to your genealogy tool box.
Of the many tips, Thomas gave in his Knickerbocker’s Approach to tackling NY ancestral research (and as Thomas said these suggestions can help with your research in any state), I will highlight three:
  1.      Consulting off-line sources -- 90% of records have not been digitized and they are not online -- to do a diligent, “reasonably exhaustive” search that may turn up information you would never have found just by using on line records. In other words, cover all your bases.
  2.     Using a research log will exponentially improve your research by preventing repeat searches and by giving you a snapshot of your efforts for reference and for analysis. RandySeaver wrote a blog post on research logs that goes into the software side, particularly how to use the research log in Legacy Family Tree. 

  3.     Following genealogy blogs on your geographic area of interest (state, county, locality) or your target surname(s) (I immediately googled some Chicago genealogical blogs) can bring unexpected rewards.

 In another section of the webinar, Thomas shared his Top Ten Resources for New York research. I’ll give you a taste of the fabulous fare by citing just two:
  1.       The New York State Archives Thomas said that he goes to this site often due to its rich array of NY resources, including an online searchable catalog of the Archives Library, searchable database of NY Civil War soldiers and information on naturalization, probate and vital records.
  2.      The New York portal of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) As a member of NEHGS, I have used the New England resources but never knew about the New York portal. Thank you, Thomas.

 In the final segment of the webinar, Thomas discussed five “Secret Links,” sites that may be unfamiliar to many researchers but that will give you access to some great information – some even go beyond NY. Here are two to whet your appetite:
  1.       Atlas of Historical County Boundaries This is a publication of the Newberry Library in Chicago. It gives the county history for every state in the US. Another site that I think complements this is Here you can see how the counties for every state evolved through map overlays.
  2.      Did you know that there is a state law in NY that requires every county to have its own historian? Again, Thomas, thank you for alerting us to this law and to New York History Net  which maintains an alphabetical list (by last name) of NY historians. You may also wish to consult the Association of Public Historians of New York State as they provide a list by county. However, at the moment, APHNYS is updating their list.

 Remember, the webinar, “Researching Your New York Ancestors” is available free of charge at Legacy Family Tree until June 11, 2012. After that date, you will be able to purchase the program CD at Legacy.

Categories: genealogy education, genealogy groups, research terms