Friday, January 22, 2010

A window to the past -- local area records

According to an article published recently on Tennessean.com, "A window to the past," the Rutherford County Archives "holds the community's history" through its preservation of county government records, enabling people to do everything from legal work to genealogy research. Although focused on one Tennessee county, this story carries a broader message: be sure examine holdings at the local level to see what information is available. Buried treasure relating to your ancestors may be out there just waiting to be discovered, as Rutherford County archivist John Lodi explains.

"The records record history, so when it was times of enslavement, we have those records. When it was times of antebellum plantations, Old South, we have those records. We can document the civil rights movement through our records. So we definitely keep up with the social history of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro. It's very fascinating."

While not everything a locality holds is digitized, a multitude of potentially valuable materials are available -- the task is finding out what records are available and how to access them. Most counties, libraries, and archives have websites . . . and check back often. Also, don't forget local genealogy societies, which make it their business to know the local area and can be very helpful.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

"A little-known genealogy service"

This may be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for those researching immigrant ancestors. An article today in the Los Angeles Times, "A government genealogy service lets family history leap off the page," provides a case in point and explains a fairly recent program [2008] that gives researchers more immediate access to immigration records, which may include an entire body of documents.

According to the article, "The documents came from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs a little-known genealogy service for relatives wanting to learn more about their family history. . . . In the past, genealogy researchers had to file document requests under the Freedom of Information Act and sometimes waited years for a response.

Under the genealogy program, which started in 2008, requests are usually completed within 90 days. For $20, the government will run a search of the name, as long as the person is deceased. If there are records available, the government charges additional fees for the files. In fiscal year 2009, more than 5,300 requests were made, fewer than expected. In addition to relatives, historians or researchers can also request files.

"It will be a treasure chest for genealogists," said Southern California Genealogical Society President Pam Wiedenbeck. "Oftentimes these files will have information on brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles that will help connect the dots."

For experienced genealogists, the files may open the doors to even more research, perhaps leading people to exact hometowns in their ancestors' native countries. And for those new to genealogy, they may be just the beginning. "For every question you answer you come up with two or three more," Wiedenbeck said."

For more information about the program, check out www.uscis.gov/genealogy.

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