Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Research Assistant at Your Side: The FamilySearch Research Wiki

How would you like to have a robot with a genealogical brain at your side and by your computer when you start researching a geographic area that is new to you? The folks at FamilySearch have made quite a lot of progress towards such a scenario.

How do you usually conduct your internet searches as you hunt for people/records in particular geographic areas? I usually start with google , FamilySearch main page, books.google, and FamilySearch catalog in about that order. But this is not really a strategy; it’s more of a “shot in the dark” approach where I throw out my question and hope I find an answer somewhere. There is another way that will give us more structure to our searches and that may well produce some surprisingly fruitful results.

So what is this “other way”? It’s no big secret. It’s been here for sometime – the Research Wiki by FamilySearch. The purpose of this Wiki is to provide some structure to geographic searches. But recently it has been revised and improved.  I used the Research Wiki a couple of times in the past year but then, out of habit, I slipped back into my scatter-shot way of searching the web.

But fortunately, Lisa Alzo, a renowned genealogy researcher, in her Legacy webinar Best Internet Sources for East European Genealogy” ,  reminded her audience about the Wiki and demonstrated how helpful it is. 

For more background on this Wiki, check out the posting on Legacy  by Marian Pierre-Louise, another well-known genealogist and one of my favorite webinar presenters.

I decided to return to the Research Wiki to help me as I searched Patrick County, VA for signs of the Shelton family, a cohort or FAN (see paragraph 5) of my Johnson line.
Here are the steps to follow:
  1. Go to FamilySearch.org on the internet.
  2. At the top of the page, click on “Learn.”
  3. Under the large map, you will see “Research Wiki” on the left.  Click on this.
  4. In the search box, type the place you are researching.  In this case, I typed “Patrick County, VA.”
  5. A results page will come up next. I clicked on the second result “Patrick County, Virginia Genealogy.”

Clicking on this page brought up a page with many topics. The first topic on the page was: Main article: PatrickCounty, Virginia which gave a general introduction to the history of the county and resources available to help you in your research.

When I returned to the main page, I saw that the next topic was Patrick County, Virginia  Genealogy Message Boards. I clicked on Patrick County, Virginia Genealogy by Genforum just to be sure I had put a message there. And there it was at the top of the list, dated 11/07/12. But unfortunately, there were no responses yet.

I went back again to the main page and looked at the third topic, Patrick County, Virginia Genealogy Books and Articles. As I looked down the list, this caught my eye:

[Shelton] Shelton, David. Autobiographical Sketches of the Life and Adventures of David Shelton. 1890s.FHL Book 921.73 A1 no. 615 Book Storage 0238073.

And here is where the amazing find happened!! I clicked on the selection and up came a page from the FamilySearch Catalog which showed that the document was on microfilm. So I thought I would need to order the film and wait for several weeks. But to my surprise, the folks at FamilySearch have indeed been busy digitizing records as I have been hearing in the genealogy community. Under Notes, this link was posted: To view a digital version of this item click here. With one simple click, a screen appeared showing a handwritten journal by David Shelton! I have never seen a piece of personal, family correspondence from the nineteenth century before. Here is an excerpt:

So the next time you are researching an ancestor in a geographic area that is new to you, be sure to start with the Family Search Research Wiki. Not only will you find a thorough introduction to many records and where they are located for your target area but you never know what hidden treasures are waiting for you.

Categories: genealogy education, genealogy tools, research terms

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