Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Monday, October 29, 2007

The answer's out there . . . somewhere

Earlier this evening, I was working with a student who was checking out some books on the Witch Inquisition in England. I mentioned to him that I had an 8th great grand aunt who was one of the Salem Witches. He said that he had wanted to do his paper on the Salem witch trials but couldn't find enough information. As someone who has used our library to find information on this subject, particularly as it applies to my 8th great grand-aunt, I was astonished he "couldn't find anything" because we have quite a bit of information. (Of course, it's possible that someone else had those books checked out, but we have so many that I'd think some would have been available.) So often students think that "the library doesn't have anything on that" when it may simply be that they aren't using the terminology that catalogers use to describe items or because they aren't looking at broader, narrower, and related terms. Sometimes they aren't aware of additional sources that may be wonderful resources such as the Evans Early American Imprints database which would have given him some wonderful resources, some of them dating to the time of the trials.

I began to wonder how many genealogical researchers give up simply because they can't find something. We hear of courthouses making discoveries of old documents that they didn't know they had from time to time. Perhaps that record we needed was among those undiscovered documents. Perhaps we think we are looking in the right place, but we didn't realize that location was in a different county at the time or perhaps the records were transferred to a different location.

As genealogical researchers, we must not give up on the quest. We need to ask the right questions of the right people to find the results we need.

I was a county coordinator and state coordinator for the USGenWeb Project for many years. I could always tell who the newby researchers were because their queries lacked focus. We need to learn to be specific about the information we are seeking. Perhaps we need to say, "I'm trying to determine the year that Great Uncle Bob moved from County X to County Y. He was here in the yyyy census, but not the yyyy one. I thought the land records might show me when he moved." Perhaps the records will cooperate and tell us the information we need to know, but the person you ask might say: "If you don't find it there, you might want to check the tax lists" or "Did you know that County Y was a part of County X until yyyy? Perhaps your ancestor never moved." If the researcher had just said "I need to look at land records," he might not have received the helpful piece of advice from the other person.

We'll probably still have a lot of unsolved mysteries, but we can keep pursuing the truth.

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