Wow, my head is spinning. This is intense, but I love it. I love being challenged this way. It’s 9 pm and I have been in class or doing homework since 8:15 am.
The morning began with a lecture from Dr. Tom Jones on “Transcribing, Abstracting, Extracting, Quoting, and Documenting Sources” (except we never got to the part about documenting sources). This was scheduled for 1 pm yesterday but we are running a bit behind. Tom promises that we will catch up by the end of the week. We practiced with some really difficult early English and American handwriting that made the BCG documents given for transcription as part of the application portfolio look like a walk in the park. The writing was so difficult that it looked at first glance like old gothic German script to me.
Next up was the wonderful Claire Bettag speaking on “Archival Research at the National Archives and Other Repositories.” I have heard Claire speak on this topic before at NIGR but I learned many new things. If I hear it 95 more times I might understand it all. Actually, I think much of this lecture made more sense to me now that I have had some experience researching at NARA than it did the first time I heard it quite a few years ago. There are a lot of improvements to the NARA website that didn’t exist back then. OPA, or Online Public Access is still under development, but will eventually combine the ARC (Archival Research Catalog) database, other databases, and scanned (PDF format) materials. They’ve also inserted a topic approach to searching the NARA website, so you don’t need to know the Record Group (RG) before you begin your search. The topic search will lead you to the RG finding aids so you can identify the Series number and other identifiers you need in order to request your record.
Another great feature is the button on the Forms, Tools, and Aids page that allows you to click on “Records Digitized by Partners.” This gives a hyperlinked NARA micro publication title (as opposed to the title that Ancestry.com gives it) that leads to the digital images. The lists starts with microfilm that has been scanned. Keep scrolling down and you will see original records that have been scanned. Ooooh, Ahhhhh.
Another trick that Claire added to our toolbox was showing us how to find those all-important DPs, or Descriptive Pamphlets. These are scanned as PDF files, and are a bit tricky to find on the NARA website. Go to the page that says “Order Reproductions.” (I agree that this makes little sense, but bear with me.) Click on “Microfilm.” (I know. We want to look at a free DP, not order microfilm. I said to bear with me.) Type in the microfilm number for the corresponding DP that you want to view. Then click on “View Important Publication Details.” This brings up the scanned DP. Government simplicity at its finest. Apparently putting a button that says “View Descriptive Pamphlet” was too easy.
One final tidbit from Claire rocked my research world. She told us not to hesitate to email and/or call the archivists at NARA with questions! The email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Cool!
All this, and it is only lunch time! After a quick salad with chicken on it, I browsed Maia’s Books in the lobby by the cafeteria. Maia’s Books and GRIP are allowing us to save personal book stacks so we can browse and add books to our stacks and “check out” later. I love this.
The afternoon started off with a dynamic lecture by Rick Sayre on “Military and Pension Record Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation.” He kept us all focused intently for an hour and a quarter, no small feat considering this lecture followed lunch. He illustrated his research techniques with a case study of his research to find out how the owner of a family heirloom Civil War rifle was related to his family. My favorite “Wow moment” was when he showed us the final check issued to the soldier’s stepdaughter, complete with her signature on the back endorsing it. This is the only copy of her signature that he has. NARA saved stuff like this! And now I know how to find it.
I didn’t think there was any room left in my brain, but somehow I fired up a few more neurons for Claire Bettag’s lecture on Gov Docs. She focused on the American State Papers and U.S. Serial Set. It was exciting to see how much information on private individuals can be found in government documents. Claire is such a good teacher that she made it actually look do-able. And after completing our homework assignment tonight to research a specified individual in the Serial Set I can attest that this is do-able!
Like they say on the infomercials: Wait! There’s more! After dinner, Rick Sayre and Pam Boyer Sayre gave an amazing two-hour lecture on “Google Earth for Genealogists.” I. am. impressed. There are so many possibilities! I only need to find the time to try all the ideas I thought of during this presentation.
Just think. This is only Day 2. I can’t wait for tomorrow!
All lectures mentioned above are part of the course Advanced Research Methods, Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, 24 July 2012.