Course: 2024-02 – Digging Deeper: Records, Tools, and Skills

Coordinator: Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA


This may be your course! It covers 19th through 21st century U.S. records, online resources, and methodology. This is your course if you answer yes to any of these questions.

  • Are you past the beginning stages of researching your family history?
  • Have you researched online but know there is more elsewhere, or have you missed some online resources?
  • Do you need a stronger foundation before taking advanced or specialized courses?
  • Are you not yet comfortable with an in-depth evaluation of documents and setting up research plans?

When we have checked basic records and done online searches but still have missing details, we need more leads and a better job analyzing the records. We will dig deeper into various records, some you may have never heard about, and where they are found. There will be several hands-on and interactive activities, small group discussions, and full-class interaction.

Personal brick wall opportunity.

A unique course aspect involves receiving advice for one of your research brick walls. In late March 2024, registrants will receive specific details and a firm deadline for sending the coordinator a brief research issue. These will be shared in the course syllabus. At the end of each day (M-Th), we will work together to help solve these mysteries.

Other Instructors:

Amy E. K. Arner, CG
Cyndi Ingle
Debbie Mieszala, CG
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
Cari A. Taplin, CG

Prerequisites: None

Recommendations: None

Best ways to take advantage of the week.

The course includes an optional but strongly suggested “homework” group project. Past students found they gained much through these exercises. An extensive syllabus, including online and offline resources, is provided for this course, and you need to read ahead for each day. A helpful suggestion is that you work on a laptop, desktop computer, or electronic tablet to take notes, especially for researching the week’s activities and the in-class hands-on work. Adding a larger extra external monitor is even better for your work during the week.

Day Session Title Description Instructor
Monday 1 Analyzing Documents Workshop: Self-Judging Your Expertise Many documents seemingly end up meaning only what is said on the surface. Surprises lurk, and a keen evaluation before more research shows you are an experienced family historian. Are there times you question your analysis of a document? You can likely do better than you give yourself credit for. We will analyze documents in these sessions, discuss the contents, and prepare research plans. Then, we will break into groups for analysis and research preparation of a different document that evolves into a class project for the week. The result: a solid research plan, recognition of the value of discussion with other genealogists, and the sharing of knowledge to help attain the sought-after research goals. This includes hands-on work. Stuart-Warren
2 Analyzing Documents Worskshop: Group Projects In this session, the students will break into groups. Each group will do an analysis, a research plan, limited research, and preparation for reporting about a document that has evolved into the group homework project for the week. Each group will have the same document and stay together during the week to work on this. The instructor provides guidance. The result: a solid research plan, recognition of the value of discussion with other genealogists, and an opportunity to compare how each group works from the document. Stuart-Warren
3 The WPA Era: A Free Boon for Research The WPA’s Historical Records Survey arm gave people unprecedented access to knowledge of record descriptions, contents, locations, indexes, abstracts, and more. During the tough economic times in the 1930s and 1940s, these government programs put many people to work. It created a goldmine of records that are useful for today’s genealogists. Record transcriptions, courthouse and manuscript inventories, record indexes, city/county histories, and histories of businesses and families may exist for your ancestral locale. Learn more about the program and the results. You may already be using some of the creations but haven’t realized how or by whom they were created. We will also discuss the online explosion of WPA materials and where they will be found in 2024. Stuart-Warren
4 Citing Your Sources Source Citations allow evaluation of a work product’s research dept and conclusions. Citations give insight into sources utilized (or neglected), their facts, potential conflicting evidence, and problem analysis and solutions. Learn citation elements to regularly incorporate source citations into a work product and how to craft source citation style sheets. Hands-on work reinforces foundations. Mieszala
Study Submitted Student Problem Review Roundtable discussion on student-submitted Problems Stuart-Warren
Tuesday 5 PERSI: Using the Periodical Source Index This session will look at Allen County Public Library’s Periodical Source Index (PERSI). We will examine its history, purpose, and new interface on the ACPL website. Participants will also gain valuable tips and techniques for getting the most out of this often-overlooked resource of accessing information in older genealogical society journals through several mini-case studies using PERSI and seeing its usefulness in giving your ancestors’ stories even more life. Taplin
6 Probate Records: More than Wills and Estates Probate courts hold the records of deceased persons, such as estates, inventories, administrations, and so on. But probate records usually contain more than simply the records of a deceased person. Guardianships for both adults and minors, commitments to institutions, apprenticeships, and more are included. These records should not be overlooked because you will find information on family relationships, ages, birth and death details, land ownership, marriages, and other evidence and clues. Taplin
7 Getting the Most from Vital Records and Their Substitutes Vital records are usually among the first types of records genealogists use. Various entities produce vital records—all of which have different rules about creating and storing the records. Those rules change over time. Complicating matters, vital records don’t always exist for the times and places where we research. During this session, we’ll cover what vital records are, how to find them, what we can use as alternate sources, and how to glean all the information from the records. Arner
8 Newspaper Research: Beyond the Birdcage Newspapers contain evidence of relationships and vital events, give insight into a community, and sometimes offer surprising tidbits. Learn in-depth newspaper research techniques and the types of information newspapers contain. Explore regular and specialty publications, such as often-overlooked ethnic, trade, and religious newspapers. Learn to find news and obituary indexes and digitized, microfilmed, and archival newspaper collections. Mieszala
Study Submitted Student Problem Review Roundtable discussion on student-submitted Problems Mieszala
Wednesday 9 The Hidden Web: Digging Deeper Finding undercover sources for genealogists means learning how to search the hidden web. When Google and traditional search engines don’t return useful information, don’t stop there. We will explore resources that are invisible to Google and hidden deep within websites and proprietary databases. The “hidden web” lies buried within the collections of commercial websites, libraries, archives, and museums. We will also talk about the importance of indexes that deep-link into websites online, thus uncovering hidden gems of information that may not be found easily through a search engine query. Ingle
10 Original Manuscripts: Finding Aids Online and Off Manuscripts often hold details not found anywhere else. Often, these one-of-a-kind documents turn up in a repository almost anywhere a family member resided or a descendant donated the material. With today’s various free-finding aids in print and electronically, we can locate family letters, scrapbooks, church records, bibles, business records, and more that may have migrated from Pennsylvania to California, from Indiana to Texas, or anywhere else. The search may also result in an online detailed inventory of a specific collection. Stuart-Warren
11 Finding Treasure in State Archives and Historical Societies Most U.S. states have a state archive or state historical society (or both). These institutions hold various records helpful to genealogists, including records created by businesses, educational institutions, governments at all levels, individuals, religious organizations, and more. During this session, we’ll cover what kinds of records state archives and state historical societies hold and the tools available to use the collections. Arner
12 Legal Savvy for the Genealogists Finding and understanding historic and modern laws, considering their impact on a research question, and recognizing legally influenced records are essential skills for genealogists. The law influenced document and record creation (and sometimes destruction) and impacted lives. Hands-on exercises provide to reinforce foundations in locating historic statutory and case law. Mieszala
Study Submitted Student Problem Review Roundtable discussion on student-submitted Problems Mieszala
Thursday 13 Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Research: Rich Resources Some censuses, erratic city directories in many places, disappearing people, renters, mobile families, and other issues are some reasons many are stumped in finding aunts, uncles, cousins, and even a missing sibling or parent. Learn specialized resources and research skills to find them, deal with careful contact, and all the emotions. A hands-on activity highlights records and a successful outcome. Stuart-Warren
14 Civil and Criminal Court Records Is it a litigious society today? It’s nothing new. A few scallywags in the (distant, of course) family? The files, volumes, calendars, minutes, and indexes we find in civil and criminal court records contain vital family history details. Divorces, adoptions, land and tax disputes, inheritance issues, minor/major illegal activities, and business dealings are just some of what might be found. The details provide names, locations, and relationships, adding depth to our ancestral stories. Stuart-Warren
15 Off the Shelf: the Unexplored Potential for ebooks in Genealogy There is a treasure trove of untapped research sources online: electronic books or ebooks. Repositories are digitizing publications and putting them online for us to use without leaving the comfort of our homes. We will explore all the options that are out there to move your research forward. Strategies for searching, downloading, annotating, and extracting pages from within this book are included. Cyndi Ingle
16 Institutional Records: The Good, The Bad, and the Painful What affected members of your ancestral families that led to their time in these institutions? What laws, community discrimination, “not in my backyard,” family shunning, and other factors were involved? Learn about these and the significant details often found in records related to these institutions. We will also discuss locating the records of poor farms, almshouses, mental institutions, prisons, record restrictions, and gaining access. Stuart-Warren
Study Submitted Student Problem Review Roundtable discussion on student-submitted problems. Stuart-Warren
Friday 17 Post Military Service: Often Overlooked 19th and 20th Century Records Bonus payments, organizations of comrades, discharge records, state-level records, adjutant general records, correspondences, relief records, Congressional records, and other important items may add significant details and understanding to the basic military information for our ancestors. Membership organizations of post-military service personnel and descendants provide personal details, support for the veterans and their families, and some surprising records. Stuart-Warren
18 Student Group Project Reporting and Analysis During this session, the small groups formed on Monday do a last-minute discussion of their project. Then, we will go into a full-class session to report, discuss, and do a final analysis and future planning on the homework project. As noted for the Monday morning sessions, the result was a solid research plan, learning from each group’s reported outcome, recognizing the value of discussion with other genealogists, and sharing knowledge to help attain the sought-after research goals. Stuart-Warren