Wednesday Wisdom: Do Your Homework!

Now, sounding like my Mom isn’t what I normally set out to do, especially in my blog.  As researchers, we both like the fact that we can do armchair research with our cups of tea on our desks.  But, I’m sure that she’d agree with me that nothing beats the excitement of doing the hands-on research at a library or archives.

However, before you race out your front door, you need to make a plan for success.  And, don’t think you’re too old for the next line.  Stop, breath and…

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!  As a mother of two, I find that this is a daily sentiment between me and my girls.  And it should be a mantra for you, too.  Before arriving at your intended destination, investigate the location.  An informed patron is usually greeted with more attentive service than someone who hasn’t bothered to determine if the record they are needed is *even* at the location.  Nothing saddens me more than to hear fellow patrons ask to see records that are not within a repository’s collections.  Folks, I like my eggs on my plate, not on my face and I’m sure you do too.

Create your list of your research items to research.  When you have a research plan for a repository, you will not waste time blindly searching the shelves, files or catalog.  Your research plan can be as simple as a list.  No need to create a fancy checklist.  Group similar record group searches together, eliminating sporadic trips to a particular file cabinet.

Call ahead to confirm hours of operation.   This step is important and one that I was reminded of recently.  Last Tuesday, I decided to do some research at a local library.  I didn’t call ahead and was unpleasantly surprised to find it closed when I arrived.  If I had called ahead, I would have been reminded that Tuesday was February 12th and the library would be closed in honor of President Lincoln’s birthday.  A silly mistake that didn’t have to happen!

Be polite to staff and follow the rules while at the facility. Nothing hurts genealogist’s reputation more than rude patrons.  Pack only what is necessary for the trip.  Use pencil and be sure you understand their photocopying and digital reproduction policies.

Ask straight-forward questions.  Only relate family information as related to your question.  As much as we love our family research, we shouldn’t burden staff with irrelevant facts or family stories.  Do your Momma proud!!

Remember, that most historical collections are not in everyday circulation, and these items are often stored in closed stacks or even off-site.  Discover and *use* online finding aids!  If you have questions that are not answered by consulting their online resources, send an email or call them before you visit.

Here are my top three HOT library spots for New Jersey Genealogy:

  1. Alexander Library, Rutgers University   The resources for history and genealogy contained within the collections of Rutgers University are too numerous to put here.  Special Collections contains not only acquisitions of the University, the New Jersey State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and collections of the Genealogical Society of New Jersey are on deposit there.  And, I’ll mention that their microforms department has an exceptional collection of newspapers.
  2. Newark Public Library    Just steps from the Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, a jewel sits in downtown Newark.  The Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center is home to a host of collections of City of Newark, Essex County and New Jerseyiana materials.  My favorite is the newspaper morgue collections of the Newark Evening News (1883-1972)… photographs, clippings, and more.
  3. North Jersey History Center, Morristown & Morris Township Library    My husband’s roots in northwest Jersey have offered an opportunity to delve into locales that I had only cruised by on interstates and local highways.  Plus, I had the rare opportunity to do research for WDYTYA’s Brooke Shields episode at this library.  Their webpages for the History Center are complete with Archival & Manuscript Collection Finding Aids, Digital Image Collections, and Guides for Research-Pathfinders.

Now, Southern New Jersey researchers don’t fret.  You have to remember that my main focus of research is Central and Northern Jersey.  So, those of you with families who lived in New Jersey south of the 1687 Keith Line will be treated to special consideration in an upcoming “Southern Jersey Strong” article.[1]

Remember, research trips are fun and can be exciting! Whether you’re at your local library or courthouse, OR you’ve traveled to another state to visit an archive, following these simple guidelines to make your trip a better and more productive one. Safe travels!!

[1] Where was the West Jersey/East Jersey line?  West Jersey and South Jersey Heritage (  accessed 19 February 2013).

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