Doing Your Homework Before You Arrive

The staff in the search room can more successfully help researchers who have done their homework before arriving in the search room. At the very least the researcher should have clear questions needing to be answered about specific ancestors.

The researcher must decide what he needs to know about an ancestor and where this information is likely to be found. Did he leave a will, who were his children, when was he born, who did he marry, did he own any property, who was his father? The staff can guide researchers to the sources that can potentially help answer such specific questions. In addition to doing homework on the ancestors, the careful researcher also needs to know as much as possible about the area in which one’s ancestors lived. At the very least one should know what the parent counties and the offspring counties are for the county in which the ancestor lived. There are books available to help researchers understand the history of an area, as well as how to more effectively go about doing genealogical research. Success will relate directly to how much preparation has preceded the visit. Genealogy cannot be done correctly and hurriedly. It takes time to learn both the procedures of an archives, as well as the holdings of the facility. A first trip to the Archives may yield nothing but if the researcher learned what records are here and how to ask for them properly then the next trip will likely yield a bonanza.

What to Expect in the Search Room

The State Archives of North Carolina has some incredible documents to protect and make available for public use. For these reasons there are significant security procedures. When researchers appear at the doors of the search room, they will be asked by security guards to limit what they carry into the search room, show a positive form of identification and will be reminded that materials will be checked upon exit from the search room. Lockers are available outside the Search Room for researchers to store extraneous materials.

Upon entrance to the search room most researchers will need to become familiar with the card catalog. The cards are filed alphabetically by county and further arranged by the types of records outlined above. On these cards is the call number which is needed for call slips, the media by which records are requested. The number will most often begin with a CR but in some cases it might begin with a SS or T&C, etc. depending on the record group. When looking at the individual cards in the card file, close attention should be paid to them because they indicate information that is needed to fill out call slips. The card will indicate whether the records are arranged chronologically or alphabetically. It will also give the inclusive dates of the records. If the record needed does not fall within those years there is no need to ask for it. An example of this is the inclusive years of 1732-1915. Written like that, it includes all the years between those two dates. If, on the other hand, the dates are written 1732-1755, 1782-1829, 1833-1915 the series is a broken one. If the date needed is 1769 it will not found in these records. The card catalog indicates exactly what records the Archives has for each county and what records of each type are included. The card file is updated regularly, so recently added records will be noted on the cards.

Once the researcher receives the requested box of records, he/she will be given a place marker to use. Only one folder should be out of the box at a time and the place marker used to mark the place where that folder belonged. This will assure that the folder is replaced correctly. For all types of records their order in the folder is very important and the papers should not be rearranged. In estates, for example the papers were arranged chronologically as the papers were generated in the estate settlement. If they have remained in their original order the researcher can follow the process just as it occurred at the time. Most likely a researcher will find a certain document they would like copied. The document should not be moved from its place; there is a procedure for tagging the document for copying. Archives staff will make the copies.

The procedures are in place because of the value and fragility of the documents that the NC State Archives is charged to protect. As they become more fragile the documents must be retired from patron use if they are to remain intact. The more careful and respectful researchers are of the originals, the longer they can be kept in use. The State Archives of North Carolina is unusual in allowing patrons to use original records whenever possible. For most researchers the opportunity to use documents created or signed by an ancestor is a rare and special privilege.

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