Earlier this month, I attended my first genealogy conference, Ancestry Day in Raleigh. I also attended the Friday pre-conference sessions at the NC Archives. The event was sponsored by Ancestry.com, The Friends of the Archives, the North Carolina Genealogical Society, the State Archives, and State Library of North Carolina. I learned a lot about each of these organizations and what they have to offer.
I visited the State Library, and talked to some librarians, and met some archivists from the State Archives. I have a better understanding of what each has to offer. You go to the Archives to see the original public records (county records, state agency records, governor papers, veteran’s records) and also private records (journals, letters, academic records, family Bibles, church records, newspapers). Before visiting the Archives, you can search MARS (Manuscript and Archive Reference System) so you know what records they have that you want to see. You go to the library for indexes and abstracts, books, periodicals, newspapers, published family histories, and government publications. Someday I’ll be brave enough to go there and do some research. It seems overwhelming, but not as overwhelming as it did before the conference.
I’ve had years of experience with Ancestry.com, but moving forward I’ll be getting a LOT more out of that website. I learned that Ancestry hints pull only from the 10% most popular databases, so crafting your own searches is important. I learned about the card catalog, which I hadn’t explored before. I learned that then you start typing in a location, it’s best to click on the suggestion Ancestry.com gives you rather than keep typing it yourself. If you click on their suggestion, Ancestry knows the GPS location and your search results widen from that area.
I learned an easy way of looking at multiple search results to determine which relate to the person you are researching. When presented with a list of search results, “right click/open in new tab” each item you think may be what you are looking for. Then drag those tabs around until you have them in date order.
I learned how to use wildcards in searches. The “?” replaces a single letter. You can use this in places where you don’t know, for example if you ancestor is listed as Catherine or Katherine by searching for “?atherine”. You can also use it in place of letters that are often transcribed incorrectly. An example given was that the letter “L” can be confused for the letter “S”, so you can search “?awrence”. The “*” replaces the ending of a word. The example given was if you are searching for Vincent, and he may be listed as Vinny or Vinnie, search for “Vin*”. You have to mark the “exact” box to activate a wildcard search.
I heard how records are acquired to be included at Ancestry.com, and now understand why there are duplications. For example, I’ve found Iowa marriages are recorded in numerous indexes. Two or more databases may contain the same information, but from different sources. People and organizations create indexes using their own criteria. For example, an individual may have indexed 3 counties, and another individual may have indexed 10 counties, but only certain last names in those counties. Ancestry acquired both record sets, and there could be overlap.
Ancestry.com offers so many learning opportunities that I didn’t know about. There’s a “Learning Center” which I had completely overlooked, including a long list of free research guides, and there’s even a research guide for each state. Also, Ancestry has a channel on YouTube. There’s a Family History Wiki includes two full genealogy books (The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, and Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources), plus content from Ancestry.com and content from the public. Finally, I’m very interested in Ancestry Academy, which offers classes, some free and some by subscription.
I learned of so many online research opportunities, and I’ve updated my toolbox.
I learned about DNA testing from Ancestry.com. I hadn’t understood the value of testing all siblings. It was explained that siblings get 50% of their DNA from their mother and 50% from their father, but it’s random which pieces each sibling gets from each parent. For example, a person could do the test expecting to find they have Native American DNA because they’ve been told there are Native Americans in their family tree, but the results don’t show Native American DNA. There are two possibilities – there are no Native Americans in that person’s family tree, or that specific DNA didn’t trickle down to that person. Perhaps a sibling got some of it though. If you test all siblings, you get a better picture of ethnicity. One sibling could be 0% Irish and another could be 50% Irish, even if each parent is 50% Irish. It was also explained that if you test your DNA now, more and more information will become available to you over time as others are tested. When you link your DNA results to your family tree at Ancestry.com, you get notified of cousin matches. If you fill out a fan chart, and color in the sections where you have cousin matches, it verifies that you are tracking the correct line.
I learned about the North Carolina Genealogical Society and what it has to offer, and I joined. After looking through the vendor fair, I decided that the $40 registration fee would provide me with more learning opportunities than $40 spent at any other table at the vendor fair. I’ve already listened to two hour-long webinars that are free to members, Tarheels in Your Family Tree 1 & 2.
I also bought the HUGE book “North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History.” It was marketed as an excellent how-to book for any genealogist, with examples from North Carolina.