Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Finding Your Ancestors in the NC Archives – Part I

After all this time of researching my family, I’ve never been to the NC Archives. For that matter I’ve not even been to the ancestral homelands of Everetts, Williamston, and Hamilton, NC, which are located in Martin County, either.

But that’s all about to change, hopefully, as this past Saturday, I ventured toward our state capital for the first time in a long time to attend a one-day workshop / lecture series on the Old North State’s Archives.

The workshop was a series of 4 lectures and was put on by The Friends of the Archives. We were informed that it has been over 15 years since The Friends have done anything like this due to “competition” from the various genealogical societies and other groups sponsoring these types of events.

The workshop covered the following topics in the order given:

  • A Virtual Tour of the North Carolina Archives
  • Tar Heels in the Family Tree? A Genealogical Introduction to North Carolina Records
  • Get Excited about your Pre-1870 NC African American Research
  • Finding Your North Carolina Revolutionary War Solider or Patriot

I attended all 4 sessions, although I must admit that I really wasn’t paying attention for the last one, Finding Your North Carolina Revolutionary War Solider or Patriot.

 A Virtual Tour of the North Carolina Archives

Debbi Blake, the Public Services Branch Head of the North Carolina State Archives, presented “A Virtual Tour of the North Carolina Archives.” Debbi began her presentation by stating that any serious researcher will need to visit the archives at some point in their research.

The first and definitely the most valuable piece of advice that Debbi gave was be prepared when visiting the NC Archives. Know what you are looking and why you are looking for it so that you can make the most efficient use of your time at the NC Archives. Debbi pointed out that it is easy to get distracted by all the records. Don’t ignore the other records. Make note of them so that if time permits you can come back to them after accomplishing your goals for the visit.

Debbi also took the time to remind the audience that an Archivist job is to provide documents not make decisions about the relevancy of the documents. Understanding this is another reason to be prepared. We, the researchers, are the only ones who can determine if a document is relevant to our search efforts.

We were also provided with a map that showed which NC counties had suffered loss of records due to fires or other mishaps. 

The map is located in the Guide to County Records in the North Carolina State Archives, which I finally broke down and purchased during one of the breaks. The Guide provides a county-by-county listing of the records located in the NC Archives.

Debbi also covered some of the basics of doing research at the NC Archives, which are:

  • Upon arrival at the Archives, you will need to go through security. Inappropriate materials such as briefcases, large tote bags, maps, manuscripts cannot be taken into the Archives Search Room. If you arrive with these materials, a locker area is provided for storage while you are in the Search Room.

  • In order to enter the search room, you will need to register at the security desk, providing positive identification after which you will be issued an ID card in order to request material.

  • Once inside the search room, materials are requested via a call slip. The call slip must contain the patron’s ID number. The patron submits the ID card to the archive staff while records are checked out.

Finally, during the question and answer session, some of the best ways to search on the Manuscript and Archives Reference System (MARS) were addressed. MARS frustrates many folks. The Archives are looking into moving to another system but for now have not come across anything else that can handle everything that MARS does. So, as with most database search systems, the key to working with MARS is to start broad and then narrow it down. How many times have we heard this, regardless of whether we are working with Ancestry’s database, FamilySearch’s database, etc.?

We were also informed that tutorials are available on the website to assist in learning how to use the system.

That concludes the highlights of the first lecture. The remaining lectures will be addressed in future posts.

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