Tips from the Pros: THE National Archives. Which National Archives? from Paula Stuart Warren, CG

National Archives, Washington, D.C., from LOC Photo Collection at Ancestry
I recently saw two different titles that were not clear until I read the introduction to the books. Simply titling something “Research in the National Archives” no longer works.  Is it the National Archives of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa? Or maybe it is the National Archives of India, Scotland, Cambodia, Japan, Ireland, Kenya, or Norway. Your sister who moved from Pennsylvania to London, England, five years ago has caught the genealogy bug. She tells you she is going to the National Archives. Wow! Is she coming to Washington, D.C. to work on the family? She may mean the UK.

When you talk about a national archives be clear about which one you are referencing. When you cite the source of a document or database, be clear about which national archives it is from–even in the case of a microfilmed record. Don’t be the one to send your future great-grandniece to Scotland instead of Hungary, France, or Nigeria after she reads through your old papers. Genealogical writers, researchers, lecturers, bloggers, historians, and cataloguers alike need to pay close attention so we don’t cause additional confusion.

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2 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: THE National Archives. Which National Archives? from Paula Stuart Warren, CG

  1. Your statement is logical, but can we take the caffeine level down a couple of degrees, and add some clarity?

    In today’s more interracial multicultural society, it is very important to be specific with the location of records. The days of knowing Graham is Scottish, Myers is Jewish and Harr is German are very much over.

    It may not be as important to the casual reader of genealogical files, but to a person committed to expanding the information the difference between Kenya and Ireland is a frustrating speed bump in the road. However, with more and more family records being made available online I doubt the great grandniece 60 years from now will be jetting to Nigeria to read a census, instead she will spend days beating her head up and down on her desk as I have done several times due to bad record keeping.

    It is important that the genealogist record the location (city or town, state, and country) and the dates of the records found. This also allows you or a future researcher to go back to these records and check out neighbors or other relatives.

    I found my great-great-great grandmother this way. I had hit a road block because her maiden name had been documented by a civil servant wrongly and for some reason, no one ever fixed it. Were it not for finding the middle name of one of her sons and going back to census records and finding a neighboring family with the same surname and a daughter’s name the same as my ancestor I never would have been able to continue her branch of our family.

    In our family, I am the curator of the museum (as my grandmother puts it). It is my job to build on and keep the integrity of our family information for future generations and I do so with a great deal of pride. I do not want some future child to have to do as much work as I have done when taking over the task. So I can understand the writer’s frustration.

    Please, keep records and records on those records. Verify all of your records as being factual and complete. Don’t just trust one file as being ‘the gospel’. Civil servants are notoriously underpaid and overworked. Many of them care little for making sure whether or not they spell the name Myers, or Meyers, or Mayers, or even Jones. It is your job as your family’s historian to correct and fix these flaws and provide adequate documentation to make it verifiable.

    Good luck in your searches.

  2. Michael, I certainly can agree with the comment about documenting which country these towns, provinces, and states are in. I have had some difficulty knowing which country in the U.K various towns,etc. are in. People speak about Sorbiton, Milngavie, etc. and I have no idea which country these places are in as I live in Canada. In like manner, I’m sure people in other countries would have no idea which province and country Moose Jaw or Swift Current or Rocky Mountain House are in. I always put the country with any place name.
    Marilyn Hunt

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