Archive for January, 2010

January 8, 2010

The Importance of Local Research

Many professional genealogists are located in and around major research centers. Here in Georgia, for instance, of the four Certified Genealogists listed on the Board for Certification of Genealogists‘ web site, three are located in the Greater Atlanta area, and one is just north of there in Jasper. Similarly, a search of researchers for hire through the Association of Professional Genealogists‘ web site gives a long list of researchers, most of whom live in or around the Metro Atlanta region.

When reading research guides, the general consensus seems to be this: use the larger repositories first, the local ones as a last resort.

I’m not sure why the vast majority of researchers feel this way. It has long been my experience that research on the local level is vastly superior to research in other places. Yes, there are many important collections held outside of local areas, but there are also many important and often overlooked records held locally.

One record set I’ve used recently here in Rabun County is the early Writ Records, bound volumes held at the local courthouse that describe early court actions (expanding upon the legal actions detailed in the corresponding minute books). These books have never been microfilmed; no copy exists outside of the original volumes held here, that I know of. Most researchers might overlook them as being genealogically insignificant, yet I have found, in the most cursory of searches, several instances of genealogical “proof” not found elsewhere.

In North Carolina, beginning researchers are told that most of the original county level records have been removed to the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. This is true, to an extent. Yes, many of the bound volumes of court records, including will books, have been moved, but there are many other records of significant genealogical and historical value remaining in the hands of local repositories. Of the three North Carolina counties in which I have conducted research over the past six months (Clay, Jackson, and Macon), I have found on the local level several unmicrofilmed record sets (either bound volumes or loose records) not found at the State Archives.

The hard truth of the matter is this: different record sets, documents, and collections are held at different locations. Concentrating all one’s time at one repository, even a large one such as a state archives, is a short-sighted practice. While it is true that local researchers need to expand their searches into non-local repositories, it is equally true that non-local researchers will never have a full grasp of an area’s records unless they are willing to visit that area’s local repositories.