Training for Reality: Librarians and Genealogists

Why don’t library schools train in family history/genealogy? It’s the same methodological thought processes, just more of them and more of the historical aspects. If librarians get requests for it regularly, then why in Hades not train for it? I hear in library school all the time about how librarians get requests for genealogical help or information and they seem incapable of answering the questions. Um, duh- teach the students how to deal with it. Make sure that they know something about what is there, beyond simply, and have the librarians start working on their own family history as the assignment.

Nothing about family history matters until you try looking up your own family. The next thing you know, it’s the most fascinating stuff in the entire world. YOUR history, not someone else’s, exactly. Yes, it is training that helps a person with customer service skills in the ability to help others, and it’s the most addictive stuff on the planet. Instead of getting into crack, people needs family history training. The only people for whom it is boring are the people who have never tried it, or more accurately, the people who never found anything. One hit, and you’re hooked. Maybe it would be better likened to LSD. Never having taken drugs, I really don’t know what the proper analogy would be for this, but instead of getting depressed over the ineptitude and vicissitudes that accompany familial rejection, despair, loneliness, or otherwise some combination of vices that really helps no one, go to the library and find someone who has some good training in a topic that is the main crux of the problem.

A feeling of the sense of self that completes a person enough to get them away from depression or the things meant to lift it comes from knowing where you come from, coming to grips with it, and dealing. (I am no psychologist, and not a professional in that regard at all. I have nothing against anyone who needs medication or similar things whatsoever.) It takes a lot of strength to see that your family is not perfect, and even (heaven forbid!) sharing it with the relatives involved.

I saw the cover of a book last year that showed a librarian looking like Superman, but a girl. Train librarians in what the people need, and then no one will ask whether or not libraries are worth the funding necessary to keep them open!


Notes From Cataloging Class

While working on the RDA overview, I started thinking about bar codes on books and wondered why didn’t the bar code have embedded standardized cataloging in it? A quick scan and the information is all there. This is not to say that catalogers become extinct at libraries. Far from it, employ more of them in diverse media fields, like music and within publishing houses if they are not there already. There is usually one of maybe tops of three catalogers in any given institution. At larger institutions, I have only heard of a maximum of five.

Change the structure a bit and pre-catalog in AACR2 and RDA. When the books or similar materials get to a library, scan the book, and if institutions need to tweak an entry for individual use, that is the functional role of the staff cataloger. We do not lose catalogers that way, we add to them. I am not sure whether this is already being done, but I see no reason it is not. For union catalogs, it still works.

Adding catalogers to staff of book sellers, DVD processors, CD processors, and etc. Even iTunes needs cataloging standardization and methodology to help with making content more accessible. These thoughts do not seem new. I am a new GSLIS student, and I am all about not reinventing wheels when it is not necessary, but in finding the fastest and the best methods possible for a given task. They are not always mutually exclusive endeavors.

I would love a systematic cataloging system utilizing Mills citations for sharing across the genealogical world. As of this writing, I am not aware of anything that comes close. Something inexpensive or free for home cataloging. And something that allows a Creative Commons use for archival uploads. Catalog an item once. Do it once (if possible) and do it right, no matter which institution it belongs to, whether NARA, a historical house, or a private collection. I want the Creative Commons ability for my crusade about digitizing as many documents as possible with keyword-search abilities to make searching easier, faster, and better. That said, cataloging should function in similar manner. Do it once and allow for downloads anywhere needed or the bibliographical information.

No future-proofing option exists now, but if the current motions for acceptance of RDA come true, and international standardizing bodies recognize it and start using it, then there is an obvious need to turn the AACR2 information into compatible work. Software with dual screen abilities, populated by OCLC Connexion or similar software should give current catalogers a chance to keep using their skills even as they merge over to the new fields. If someone has need to look up information backwards, they should also be able to do it. AACR/2 has been around for 30+years and all efforts in American academia up to this point revolve around this system, Dewey, Cutter, or a similar method with Library of Congress information. The idea is not to interrupt workflows, but to make for as seamless a transition as possible.

My class uses OCLC Connexion for double-checking basic bibliographical references and we do not add to the records. Seems like good reason as we do not know what we are doing, and wish not to disrupt the entries of those that do. AACR2 has a million rules to follow, also. Following the rules means that people get really good at proving their cases for things. Akin to lawyers’ court cases, or mathematicians’ proofs, or family historians’ Genealogical Proof Standard, everyone uses evidence as proof of things. In most places of life after introductory basics, a person is proving him or herself all the time. Very few people accept anything on face value unless tired, or the facts are not sufficient to alarm them.

Even God uses evidence, although there is a certain degree of faith attached. “Prove me now herewith saith the Lord of hosts” is part of a scripture asking for people to try out the promises that God gives. Try it, akin to trial, perhaps. Who’s trying whom? To be determined.

That aside, I want things to run efficiently. Let the para-professionals simply scan in books or other items as they come in. If there are back logs of previously cataloged items, then use the logs to help with populating the new material or union catalogs for distribution. There is always more cataloging to do. Whether it is new acquisitions, or archival items, or even simply cataloging Google images and items, it needs doing. Search terms help, but they’re not enough. An Advanced search on Google is almost impossible unless a person literally searches Google for it. And while there is a lot on Google, there isn’t everything there yet.

For those of us who did not grow up in the instant information-Fast Pass (thank you Disney) mentality of the Internet, there is still a lot of material left to cover and a lot not yet available online. Even for what is there, keyword searching does not always cover it, nevertheless cross-cultural information algorithms.

Hire more catalogers. Improve and increase software, and make sure that what is there is known.

Best to all from the Genealogy Doctor.

Family History Basics: Part Two (Internet Sources for Kicks and Giggles)

This is a continued series following a request for information on getting started with genealogical research, without using Ancestry. The author has nothing against using Ancestry, but wants to show that there are alternatives as the request stated.

Internet Resources: More Sites

Internet genealogical sources are myriad and scattered across the upper levels of the World Wide Web. There are plenty of deep-level web sites for individual family sources, and things that are kept behind paid or unpaid firewalls for accessibility restrictions due to membership (read: profit) concerns.

Ancestry is the biggest gorilla on the block, but there are also sites like,, and Fold3 that do similar functions. Their resources may overlap in a few places, but that depends upon the business model, profit-sharing strategies, and strategic planning.

This is by no means a thorough list, but a small compilation of a few of my go-to resources when at a library. I use Ancestry due to its profundity, but will need to start a Fold3 account soon after reviewing its source possibilities for military records. For someone living in the Windy City, the public libraries are under-staffed due to extreme and severe budget cuts. When you cut a library, you’re cutting your life. That said, there is at least HeritageQuest that is accessible for home use via one of those precious little green library cards. Since HeritageQuest has the censuses (the biggest draw for any US-based online genealogical database image-viewing site) I recommend using that green card and reaping happy benefits.

Client Practice Methodology for the Inclined: Time Needed for Starting Out

Future blog posts will highlight or give more depth to these and other sites in addition to other facets of research. There are myriad ways of starting out, and I typically recommend reserving an hour for beginning and two hours if you want to dig just a bit. The time goes by FAST! Just trust me here. I’ve given enough people a small taste to know that time becomes irrelevant outside of the cost structure. That said, four-hour increments are what I normally see people charge for when performing research for another person. It’s long enough to get some basics together, although not so long that it’s onerous on a client or their pocketbook, typically. For friends, I suggest two hours for simply helping them out in getting started, but will start with one hour and see whether they have more time than that. Once a person starts and gets into it, stopping is close to or nearly impossible.

Family History Basics: Part One (Introduction and Basic Research Strategy Overview)

This post pertains to United States based research and while the basic methodology is the same for cultures with written record traditions, the searching methods depend upon the countries and periods necessary for individual searching strategies. Unless otherwise noted, all searching links lead to other sites than Ancestry (save the initial link to that site) following the question theme of the post. This is the first of a series of posts on the topic, with intermittent graduate school posts interspersed for completion of assignments. 

Starting Research and Family Impact 

Post theme: A grad school colleague asked about how to start family history research without having to pay for it, and without using Ancestry. Starting research is a two-part process. Many people ask about family history without wanting to bother their family with their interest or to involve them until absolutely necessary. Searching for family is a lot easier when inviting the family’s help, when possible. The ballgame changes dependent upon the emotional and intra-family connections based upon family lore and emotional investiture of the traditions into identity versus the willingness to see what is fact based upon analysis of documentation.

Discussed within the next section are the two-prong approach to research. Each can be done and should be done as useful to the searching avenues and abilities of the researcher:

  • Internet sources
  • Home sources

Quick and Dirty Research: Internet research

I have learned that “striking while the iron is hot” is the only way to keep interest going in family history. Getting instant information and documents into the hands of amateur researchers requires Internet research. Skipping Ancestry is re-inventing the wheel a la non sequitur. Ancestry is not perfect, nor is it an all-encompassing resource, but when it is available at libraries large enough to handle the institutional subscription fee (read: universities?), I see no reason to keep from using the resources. However, other websites are available as well that do the same thing in a different API.

For good broad database functionality for free it is probably best to use Typing the names of grandparents may bring back search results involving the Social Security Death Index dependent upon the results of current legislation trying to ban publication of this index. The SSDI is not perfect, but it is better than nothing. While security is a risk associated with banning this index, the only people that lose in this case are law-abiding citizens as the people who wish to perpetrate crime will find other ways of doing it. Restricting access to this index would do the opposite intended effect for the needs of users. “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”- attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

The basic searching strategy requires searching home materials and emailing or calling relatives for what they know. Historically, whomever keeps the records makes the rules. This is especially true when reaching out to family, no matter what the intra-family politics require. Comparing “known” family stories versus the documentation requires patience as the historical record is not always perfect, and neither are the family stories. Emotional impact of truthfulness in identity is a huge part of the process and is best done with a mindset that “people is people is people” and an understanding that no one’s family is perfect and normally they were not all horrible, either. If you think of yourself as average, they probably did, too.