Melissa Barker 2016-07-11 12:47:10
We’ve all seen them. They enter our facilities with their family group sheets, digital cameras, laptops, thumb drives, and high expectations finding those long lost ancestors. Who am I talking about? Genealogists, of course! Genealogy research is the second most popular hobby in the United States. Television shows like You Think You Are?, Genealogy Roadshow, and Finding Your Roots fevering the pitch, researching family history is at an all-time high. However, popular genealogy websites, such as www.ancestry.com and www.familysearch.org have lulled hobby genealogists into thinking that all genealogy and historical records are online and there is no need to contact or visit an archives. Archivists know that perception can’t be further from the truth. We have records that have been on shelves for years, yet to be microfilmed or digitized, but that could be of use to researchers. So how do archivists educate genealogists about the need to visit archival collections in person? By thinking outside the Hollinger box! As an archivist for the past six years and a genealogist for twenty-six years, I hope to share some insights on the genealogist’s approach to researching in archives and how archivists can serve this distinct set of users by bringing them into our repositories. Reaching Out to Genealogy Websites You may have a great facility, fantastic staff, and interesting records, but have you conveyed that information to the genealogy world? Many genealogists don’t know what repositories are out there nor how to contact them. Why not make it easy for them? One of the best ways to do this is to get contact information for your facility on well-known genealogy websites where genealogists will find it. Include your facility’s name, address, phone number, email address and the days and hours of operation. It’s also helpful to share a brief list of the types of records, time period, or special collections in your holdings so genealogists can determine what may be relevant to them. The first website I would suggest is FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page). For a state archives, list contact information on the state page; for a county archives, university archives, or other local archives, list contact information on the county page. FamilySearch Wiki also has “Adopt-A-Page” for libraries and archives. There is no fee for this, and FamilySearch will display your logo with a link back to your website. USGenWeb Project (http://www.usgenweb.org/) is another frequented website for genealogists, also organized by county and state. Contact the site’s State Coordinator or County Coordinator to add your information to the page. A third website is Cyndi’s List (http://www.cyndislist.com/), which, for more than fifteen years, has served as a starting point for genealogy researchers. Send your contact information and website to the site’s administrator to be included. Show and Tell Social media platforms are a great way to “show and tell” records collections that are not online. When I became the archivist for Houston County, Tennessee, in 2011, I had my work cut out for me. Houston County had never had an archives, and none of our records had ever been touched, aside from a brief project on minute books done by the Tennessee State Library and Archives in the 1970s. I was starting from scratch. When I began to unearth some wonderful records, the genealogist in me wanted to share them with everyone. I started a Facebook group for the archives and began posting a Today in the Archives series, which featured a photograph, document, or artifact from the archives each day. The series was a hit, and over the past four years, I have been able to share some of our unique county records with the genealogy community, which has in turn drawn genealogists to visit the facility. The Facebook group now has 438 members, and continues to grow. A Captive Audience Getting genealogists to the facility is your biggest obstacle—but once you get them there, you will have a captive audience. To encourage these visitors, consider holding open houses, genealogy tours, and genealogy classes tailored around your collections. I have been holding a free genealogy class once a month at my local library. I teach on the genealogy research process and use records from our county archive to show students what is in the facility and what is available to them in the facility. The class has brought many of the students to the archives to do further research. Success! Genealogists are continually looking for new research techniques to help them find more information about their relatives and are very open to new ideas. All it takes is getting them in the door! Genealogists as an Asset Genealogists are a great group of people. They are enthusiastic researchers, investigators, and sleuths—they love digging up their “dead people.” By making it easier for them to find relevant repositories and encouraging them to visit the archives in person, we can provide positive experiences for genealogists—then they will return again and again!
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