The African-American Special Interest Group (AA-SIG) of the St. Louis Genealogical Society is a roundtable discussion group for researchers focusing on African Ancestors. The following is a highlight of many items discussed during the April 2, 2011 roundtable.
Discussion #1: Many African-American researchers find themselves with Mississippi ancestors. Due to many counties lacking vital records prior to ~1910, roadblocks often inhibit the project. But don’t give up!
Be sure you know what is available and when in the counties you are researching by using references such as Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources by Alice Eichholz, editor. Redbook notes state and county information in table form of vital records, land transactions, and probate files that may or may not be available and other state and county information. Don’t go researching blindly, you may be looking for a record that does not exist or perhaps in a county that was not yet formed.
Visit the Mississippi State Archives for county record listings, maps, and other resources throughout the state.
Maps are very helpful when you can’t locate the records of family members across county boundaries. The University of Missouri-Columbia’s Special Collections has Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for viewing. They are available for large cities and smaller cities that may have had an established business community and offer additional detail such as buildings and utilities. For other states, try visiting their state archives and universities. Many libraries subscribe to ProQuest that has black and white versions scanned from microfilmed copies of the maps.
Consider alternative records that may offer the information you seek. For instance, land and probate records are likely available and may help lead to additional family information when vital records are missing.
Discussion #2: A few computer software tips to help your family history project.
Cutepdf is a virtual printer that will save webpages and other computer documents into PDF. After a quick download, just choose cutepdf from your printer options & save your document when prompted. Saves your information & your printer ink.
Consider using family history software such as RootsMagic to compile your genealogy and stay organized recording citations. RootsMagic has a free version you can give a whirl.
File your documents into a system that works for you short term but can be kept up and move along with you long term. Most of us begin with the 3-ring binder but after sometime, the binder may become cumbersome overflowing with generations of documents. This can inhibit your researching if you aren’t examining your documents regularly to compare with new findings. Consider scanning documents into an image or pdf format and connecting with family history software; leaving your hard copies safe at home.
Citations…remember to make note of your citations in source notes, on your document, and in your family tree software. Use references such as Evidence! or Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown-Mills to help your citing. A useful item to have beside your computer is QuickSheet: Citing Online African-American Historical Resources Evidence! Style by Elizabeth Shown-Mills. A copy of the quicksheet was donated recently by Mrs. Shown-Mills (Thank you!) and as a door prize, won by a genealogy newbie. (What a great inspiration for beginning your genealogy!)
When saving documents and images, be consistent in where they are saved to your computer. Making a single folder that contains additional folders for all of your family history and images offers quick retrieval and easier backups. Also be consistent in what you name your files. Long names are great but not necessarily easy to organize. I have a ” 8 digit or less” rule that I give each family member a unique code that follows them throughout their lifetime. Each of their document receives this code and is easily found within the family history folders on my computer.
Discussion #3: Skillbuilder: Fattening Up Your Family Tree.
Leaf’n & Learn’n,
*Note: Items can be purchased from additional online and walk-in stores besides the ones linked above.