Preparing for a Research Trip – Accessing Online Catalogs

Inside the Hancock County Courthouse research room. Photo by Cari A. Taplin
Inside the Hancock County Courthouse research room. Photo by Cari A. Taplin

Before you embark on any research trip, it is wise to give yourself the time to comb through the repositories’ online catalogs and finding aids. Almost every library, archive and courthouse is going to have some kind of information online to help you plan your trip. My favorite thing to do (and the task which I usually short change myself on) is looking at online catalogs and creating a list of what I want to look at when I get there.

Salt Lake City’s Family History Library is a great example of an online catalog that is informative, easy to access and simple to plan from. If you have thought out your research goals and have a plan, then accessing the catalog and creating a “to do” list is the final step (well, before packing and filling up the car). It is like drawing a map for your visit in the library. We only have so much time before we have to leave any research trip so getting the most out of your time is essential.

There are several ways to collect the data and create the list of records, books, or micro-materials you want to access. Back in the “old days,” and by “old days” I mean before smart phones, tablets and even the wide-spread use of laptops, I used to access the catalog, print the page containing the description of the item, write on the blank space of the page or on the back who or what I was hoping to find in the record, and then would store it in a 3-ring binder. Each page was in a sheet protector and when I printed the corresponding records, they would be slipped into the sheet protector along with the catalog page. This ensured I had all of the data I need to create a source citation later.

Now, the microfilm readers have thumb drives. I can copy and store the catalog materials in Evernote. I can take photographs of the pages (even microfilm projections) with my smartphone directly into Evernote. I can sit next to the film reader with my MacBook Air (tiny, lightweight) and take notes in a spreadsheet or on Evernote. There are a million different ways to do this. Use whatever works best for you and your process.

Before you leave on your trip, but once you’ve identified what repositories you’re visiting, get online and see what online resources they have. Google is excellent at this. Just search for their catalog. One small local library I often visit is the Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green, Ohio. Their online catalog is very helpful, allowing researchers to know ahead of time what they have in their collection. Their catalog is connected to a larger database, so if they don’t have what you are looking for you can search surrounding area libraries and see if they have the item nearby. WCDPL also has an excellent collection of newspapers on microfilm which are what I usually access when I go.

While I’m in Bowling Green, there are a few other repositories and locations I like to visit:

You can see from the above list that there is plenty to do in that one town. If I widen my range I also like to visit:

Findlay, Ohio

Perrysburg, Ohio

  • Way Public Library
  • Fort Meigs Cemetery
  • Zoar Lutheran Church (though a large portion of their records have been moved to Way PL)

These towns are within about a 45 mile range from each other, stretching north/south on the I-75 corridor in NW Ohio. There are countless cemeteries and historical attractions in between. By accessing data online before I go, I can create a plan that makes the most of my time there. When you are planning a trip, widen your range and figure out what you can reasonably visit and research with your allotted amount of time.

Set your research goals, create a map, plan your time, make a “to do” list by accessing online catalogs, take notes in your research log about what you’ve found, and have fun!

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