Four years and four lessons ago, you started on your family tree. You had decided it was up to you to not cry "timber" and let your family tree come crashing to the ground. Hopefully, you are now well on your way to a completely branched-out and leaved-out tree. But that darned tree just keeps growing and bare spots keep appearing—and tough branches at that. Have you explored all possible sources before declaring "dead end" and throwing in the towel? Perhaps not, so let's try a few different angles that may help.
Churches—Local, National and Mormon: Your local church, or the church in your ancestors' locale can be a good source of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths. Some have records back to the church's beginning, some have only modern (20th century) ones. There are gaps due to floods, fires, etc. that took their toll on houses of worship along with town halls and other governmental buildings. At times, ministers considered these records personal possessions and took them when they were transferred to a new city or state. Over the years, some records were forwarded to the national headquarters of a particular denomination. Your local library can furnish you the address of these "home offices."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon/LDS) is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has the largest collection of genealogical material in the world. Your local LDS church usually has a history room with a computer link to Salt Lake City as well as a large amount of genealogical information available. Their link to headquarters makes available via mail, all the data held in Utah, in the form of microfilm, microfiche, books, etc. as well as computer files. The LDS collections are not limited to their own members, but cover people of all denominations. The local history rooms have limited hours and a large number of researchers so plan your visit accordingly.
State Archives and Libraries: Your state capitol has voluminous records of interest to genealogists from vital records to history books to family genealogies to most everything that has happened in the state from the date of its founding. Personal research in Albany or Harrisburg does require some pre-planning. Access is limited and the number of family researchers continues to grow. It is possible to inquire by mail but due to heavy backlogs and fewer employees, long delays are possible—as long as 12-18 months.
National Archives and the Library of Congress: Like your state capitol, the national capitol at Washington, D.C. is crammed with genealogical and historical records. Areas of great interest not generally available at the state level are military records, ship arrivals, immigration records and naturalization records. Additionally, the normal records of genealogical interest are available: census records, family genealogies, Bible records, etc. These collections are second only to LDS in volume. They are accessible by mail with forms obtainable at your local library. Also, inter-library loan for a fee is available. In addition, there are 11 field branches of the National Archives located across the United States. New York state is served by the Bayonne, New Jersey branch, while Pennsylvania comes under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia branch.
College Libraries: An often overlooked source of genealogical information is your closest college library. Not every town has a college but every college has a library that perhaps should be a part of your digging. Cornell's Olin Libary is an outstanding one in Central New York State. Their collection includes church records, newspapers, histories, one-of-a-kind manuscripts, and genealogies and much neighboring states' data, particularly New Jersey.
Fraternal Organizations: Though not equipped to handle personal research nor with enough manpower to readily answer mail, this is a source not to be overlooked. Applications and membership files for Masonic, Moose, Elks, Eagles, etc. contain genealogical data. The local records should be available at the organization's building. Older records would be available at the state or national headquarters, the address of which would be available locally.
The above suggestions and hints for source data should keep you digging for awhile and help fill in some of those bare spots on your tree. No one ever said genealogy was easy, but it sure is fun! After all, we are trying to find in a few weeks what it took our ancestors years to hide. GOOD DIGGING!
© 1995, Elwyn R. Van Etten