View the Records

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Your research may be more rewarding and more effective if you can visit the library or archive and personally search the records. Examine the actual documents or exact microform copies when possible rather than abstracts.

Format and Equipment[edit | edit source]

Because genealogical records are available in a variety of formats (see Formats of Records), understanding those formats and the equipment necessary to use them will make you a more successful researcher. Microfilm or microfiche records can be viewed through special film or fiche readers available at most libraries. A librarian can show you how to use the machines.

When using a library catalog or records on computer or compact disc, follow the instruction manual and/or the instructions on the computer screen.

When using books, learn the cataloging and shelving system for that library so you can find books easily. Handle the books with care as many are old and in poor condition. Your consideration will be appreciated.

Actual documents may be difficult to use. There may be only one copy of a dirty, faded, or fragile record. Handle such records as little as possible. Skin oils can harm old documents. Turn pages or leaf through files slowly and carefully. Never write on or mark documents! Ask the archivist how to make copies.

Read and Interpret the Records[edit | edit source]

Each record may have peculiarities that make it difficult to read or to understand the meaning of the information.

Handwriting. To read handwritten records, you may need to understand the handwriting practices of the recorder. Many researchers have found that the best way to learn to read old handwriting is to learn to write in that style. You may want to study a book about handwriting, such as—

E. Kay Kirkham, The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years (Logan, Utah: Everton Publ., 1973). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Fiche 6010036-37; Book 973 G3k.

Terminology. Dictionaries can define unfamiliar words used in the records. Major libraries have comprehensive dictionaries that include archaic meanings and the origins of words. An excellent dictionary of genealogical terminology is—

Barbara Jean Evans, 530737The New A to Zax: A Comprehensive Genealogical Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians, 2nd ed. (Champaign, Ill.: B. J. Evans, 1990). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D26e.

Languages. Records from international countries and some from your own country may be written in foreign languages. While you do not need to speak a foreign language to do most research, you will need some understanding of the language and key genealogical words. Dictionaries that give definitions in your native language and a foreign language are available in most libraries and bookstores. Guide books that discuss reading foreign records are often listed in thePlace Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under [COUNTRY] – LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGES.

A series of genealogical word lists that give English meanings of about 900 key terms have been added to the FamilySearch Wiki:

Formats of Records[edit | edit source]

Formats of Records

Genealogical records come in a variety of formats, each with its own benefits and limitations. These formats are usually determined by the record's nature, creator, or repository.

  • Actual documents were created near the time of the event by someone associated with it. Original records were usually handwritten on sheets of paper or in books. Such records may be found in archives, or still in the care of the organization that created them. Some printed records such as newspapers are considered original records for some kinds of information.
  • Published books may contain compiled records or original records (such as city directories). A publication may also be a printed copy of the actual document, such as:
    • A transcript (an exact, complete copy of an original record).
    • An extract (an exact, partial copy of an original record).
    • An abstract (a brief summary of important information, not using the language of the original).
    • A database printout (could be original or an abstract copy).

Remember that extracts, abstracts and most databases seldom include all the information a researcher may want.

  • Microform records are original records or published books which have been photographed on microfilm (roll film) or microfiche (sheet of film). This makes multiple copies available to research libraries or archives.
  • Computer files may contain compiled or original records. Often such files only abstract or index the original information. Sometimes they include an image of the original document. Computer files may appear in several formats:
    • Compact disc (CD-ROM).
    • Databases usually on one computer network.
    • Internet files available online worldwide at no charge, or for a subscription fee. These online databases come in many formats. Some may invite users to contribute new information, others may include millions of names in large commercial or government sources like old censuses, or Social Security death records.
    • Web pages or blogs of individual genealogists.