I’m noticing a pattern on online help groups lately – an amateur researcher calls either the local historical society or the local library with a question. Often they get the help they need, but they can also end up frustrated. Why?
1) Most historical societies are all volunteer and local. In a community settled around one hundred years ago – like many in the Midwest – this would be an advantage. In CT, it isn’t. Why? Because Connecticut towns often began life as part of another town. If the volunteer you call does not know that, you could end up looking in the wrong town for records. Check your town splits first: http://www.cslib.org/cttowns.htm. BEWARE: Just because the town didn’t exist yet doesn’t mean the records you need aren’t there. Some towns transferred records with a split; others didn’t.
2) The researcher didn’t ask what they can and cannot access. Congregational church records were often recopied; Catholic ones cannot be accessed without the help of the church or the diocesan archives. Some libraries have copies of the local newspaper and will pull obituaries. Russell Library in Middletown is exceptional in their obituary service. Some historical societies will send volunteers to town or city hall. East Haddam is great about this. Others won’t. Don’t assume no means no. It may just mean “oops… we forgot to look there.”
3) They didn’t really know what they were looking for. Remember that most historical society volunteers and librarians aren’t trained as genealogists. (Please note: there are exceptions, including the staff of Russell Library, Middletown.) They may want to help you find out about your “great-grandpa” but not have the knowledge to tell you how to do that. If you can’t provide them with an exact research path, they’re more likely to get stuck. Call with I need to locate _____’s obituary from _____ and I think she died in your town. You’ll likely get an answer.
What does this mean for you?
1) Don’t stop calling libraries or historical societies if you know precisely what you’re looking for. Often they can answer your question without much work. Just don’t expect them to do your work for you!
2) Make an effort to learn about the area. Calling the county seat to get property records for a small town will just annoy the clerk (CT hasn’t functioned on the county system since the 1960s, and records are stored in the creating town, which can be hard for out of staters to understand. )Missing records because you’re in the wrong town is something that can easily be avoided.
3) Ask for help. Sometimes records aren’t where you think – try locating a Catholic marriage before 1900. Professional genealogists are often the best resource: we’ve spent hours learning record locations. Check out www.apgen.org for a directory listing.