Using Ancestry.com for Research Part I

AncestryI’ve been using Ancestry.com for book research the last year.

It’s been surprising and fantastic.

As a genealogist, I avoided it for years.

But when I began writing my biography of Mrs. Oswald Chambers, I started with one question: “Where did this woman come from?”

Ancestry.com provided the information and so much more.

English records

I live in California. I was unable to travel to England and do the in depth, on site research I’ve done on my own family history.

So, I purchased a subscription to Ancestry.com.

As a genealogy “purist,” who finished her research in 2000, I didn’t realize Ancestry makes available primary source materials with a click of the mouse.

Oh, my. It was a dream to this experienced genealogist and avid researcher.

Past experience

I’ve spent countless hours in libraries scanning indexes in books, flipping pages trying to imagine odd angles and names to search.

Microfiche and microfilm readers consumed hours of my time in genealogical libraries from Washington, D. C. to Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Musty basements, brown-spotted volumes, pencils (no pens allowed in genealogical libraries), scribbled notes and photocopies filled my days.

Ancestry

A microfiche reader; by Arbitrarily0 (Wikipedia)

Sitting here at my own desk examining obscure materials and downloading for the last fifteen months was incredibly easier and much less time consuming.

Oh, my. I couldn’t believe what I turned up.

And not just about Biddy.

It’s not just family trees

Family trees are interesting and give a hint of a person’s family life, obviously, and relations.

Many people look at the family trees and import them into their personal lines.

But the deep research serious genealogists and biographers perform involves much more than a list of names.

To fully understand a person, a researcher needs working knowledge of the times, the places and the circumstances in which an individual lives.

You have to dig.

Sometimes that digging takes hours, days, weeks or even months.

When you find a nugget, however, joy overflows.

I’ve embarrassed myself too many times in hushed libraries shouting, “Yes!” Or “Finally!”

When I did that at home, my husband might look up (he’s usually downstairs reading), but no one whispers an exasperated, “shhhh!”

Cost

Ancestry

A photo from the Chambers tree

My subscriptions costs me money and I’ve reupped it three times.

For this book, it’s one of the best uses of money I’ve spent–and, of course, it’s a business expense.

Because I can gather this information here at my computer, I don’t have to leave the house.

In the past working on my family tree, I’ve traveled long distances to use libraries in Salt Lake City; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Washington, D. C; San Francisco and even at UCLA.

I lived in Hawai’i when I did research at the local family history center, Honolulu’s central library genealogy section and the DAR library in Manoa.

But even living locally, going to those libraries took time, energy and coordination with my family members and babysitters.

Here, I just sit in my office in type.

It’s wonderful

The results?

I have turned up all sorts of unusual information that appears in my book.

I’ve found answers to questions that have long dogged Chambers researchers.

Ancestry.com has also been an excellent resource to track other people involved in Biddy’s life.

biographer

Now available for pre-order

I’ll be using the next couple blog posts to show how.

Meanwhile–what is the best tool you’ve found for research?

Tweetables

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