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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 9/10/2003

Aren't You Glad You Went to Orlando?

I recently spent four days at the Federation of Genealogical Societies' (FGS) annual conference in Orlando, Florida. This week we'll discuss what I learned at one lecture and how I decided to make my book purchases.

Attend a Lecture on a Whim
Juliana Smith and I attended Paula Warren's lecture on WPA (Works Projects or Progress Administration) records at the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies' Conference in Orlando, Florida. I actually had not planned on attending the lecture, but Juliana indicated she was going and I decided to tag along.

After three days of less-than-enough sleep, I knew that not even a hundred piece marching band comprised completely of drums and cymbals would keep me awake. So I downed my fourth can of sugar and caffeine (no coffee for me) and went with Juliana to attend the lecture. And I was glad that I did.

I was already aware of some of the wonderful finding aids created by the depression-era WPA agency, particularly Soundex indexes to various census and passenger lists. And I was aware of some of the inventories of county record inventories that had been compiled by WPA workers as well. I had never given the county record inventories too much thought. The lecture made me aware that some of these compilations had been lost and that some had been compiled but never actually published. Interesting.

Did Paula mention specifically how these sources could help me? No. Did she mention specific sources for my counties of interest? No. Was there an overhead with the heading, "What notes Michael should take right now?" No. After all, the lecture was not titled "How WPA Records can Help Michael Neill." No one can expect a lecture to be so specific. However, the conference syllabus for Paula Warren's lecture did contain four pages of bibliographic citations, with each source numbered (I appreciated this numbering as it made it easier for Paula to refer to specific books during her lecture). I scanned the thirty-some citations while I was waiting for the lecture to begin, but nothing really "jumped out" at me. However, as Paula showed representative examples of the finding aids and indexes created by the WPA, the gears started turning inside my head and I realized that some of these sources might help me find records I had been unable to find. In some cases, just seeing the words on the printed page got me to thinking.

When Paula mentioned that the WPA had done inventories of county records, I thought of a county in Illinois that is supposedly missing some old records. The WPA inventory should indicate if someone was able to locate these materials in the 1930s. This might help me find them in the 2000s.

Other references for WPA records:

Smith, Juliana, Works Projects Administration (Ancestry Daily News, 4 April 2000)

Szucs, Loretto, The WPA: 60-Year-Old Investment Still Yields High Dividends, (Ancestry Magazine, May/June 1995).

Want the Syllabus?
The FGS 2003 syllabus, containing up to four pages of lecture notes on each lecture at FGS 2003 Orlando, can be purchased via the Federation of Genealogical Societies' website at: I know I'll be periodically leafing through mine, but not on those nights when I can't sleep. Reading the syllabus will only get me thinking about my research problem and thinking never helps me sleep.

Get a Book
The online world contains a great deal of genealogical information, but browsing the vendor area reminded me of the large number of genealogical books currently available. Many of these books contain information in a convenient, portable format and many contain references not available online.

Here's my approach to making that book purchase at a conference.

--- A Recommendation
Book buying advice should preferably be from someone who knows what they are talking about and is familiar with the area or region covered by the book. This typically is not someone who posts anonymously to a genealogy mailing list. Once in a while I will e-mail someone for advice but more often I'll read various bibliographies, listen to lectures on the subject, or read online and offline articles.

--- Is a Significant Amount of What the Book Contains Not Online?
An additional item of consideration for me is whether or not the book contains material that is online. Even if the information is online, in some cases, having a print format is more helpful.

--- How Much Will it Really Help?
If the book only has one page I need, I usually decide not to purchase the book. This is a matter of sheer economics. If I purchased every book that contained one page I needed I would spend myself into bankruptcy. I purchase books also depending upon:
--- How much of my ancestry the book relates to.
--- Am I going to have to copy a significant proportion of this book to get the information I need?
--- Would it take me several hours in the library to get through this material?
--- Is there a good chance I'll need to refer to this book numerous times throughout the course of my research?
--- Does it cover an area or record type that relates to one of my "brick walls?"
--- Does it contain case studies similar to mine that are explained in enough detail that I can extrapolate the ideas to my own research? (In some cases, subscriptions to scholarly genealogy quarterlies fit the bill more than books.)
--- How does the price compare to other materials? (It's also important to remember that price is impacted by several things, not just supply and demand. Books printed overseas and "short runs" are frequently priced higher than domestic books and those books perceived to be better sellers.)

Some of these reasons make it necessary for me to see the book before
I actually purchase it. The vendor area at a conference or a genealogical library is a great place to browse.

--- Can Anyone Tell Me What I Need?
It can be difficult for someone else to really "tell" you if you need a certain book or not. You are the only one who knows what you can and cannot afford and what your research problems are. Advice can be helpful, though it is best when received from someone not selling the book. Budgeting genealogical expenses is always an excellent idea and avoid the urge to buy on impulse.

Based upon my own research problems, I bought the following books at the recent FGS conference in Orlando. After the title, we'll discuss why I made each purchase.

Cradled in Sweden, by Carl-Erik Johannsson, Everton Publishers
My wife is one-eighth Swedish and, since I've already made a start on those ancestors, I decided a guide will be helpful. Based upon several recommendations, I chose this book as my initial reference. I knew I wanted the book before I ever went to the Orlando conference. There were other Swedish research guides available. But (based upon how I research and what "works for me") I try to avoid any guides comprised significantly of film numbers from the Family History Library Catalog and that are un-illustrated. I use my local Family History Center quite a bit and am familiar enough with both the online and microfiche card catalogs that I personally don't need exhaustive microfilm list. Knowing the general structure of the records is enough for me to find the film numbers I need. Some people need more exhaustive bibliographies and that's fine, but I buy what works for me. I needed a book that explained how to use and interpret the records. As I research more, I may realize that I need more how-to books in this area, but this will get me started.

The King's Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles de Roi 1663-1673, by Peter J. Gagne
This was the non-how-to book that I decided to purchase. I had used this book several times at the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne and had made copies of several references. The book contains biographies (with citations) of the lives of nearly eight hundred women sent from France to marry the men who had already arrived in Quebec. They were not daughters of the King, but rather girls and young women from the poorer families who were sent help populate the colony. My one-eighth French-Canadian wife has quite a few ancestors in this English language reference and I decided it was time to take the plunge.

By the time I decided to purchase this book, the vendor had sold their only copy. Fortunately they were including shipping on all books sold at the conference. So I got the book, paid no shipping and (best of all) did not have to drag it home in my luggage.

Lessons Learned from FGS?
--- Attend a lecture or workshop session you might not otherwise attend. You may learn more than you think. Even if it doesn't directly apply to your research, a well thought out lecture may trigger a few ideas.

--- Plan before buying books. Hasty decisions are not always good ones. I had already made the decision to purchase both books before I ever set foot in Orlando.

Copyright 2003, Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can email him at: "" or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Used by the author on his website with permission.

Michael's other articles from the Ancestry Daily News