20 August 2016

The DAR Library for All: Near or Far, Member or Not

Today I am giving one of my lectures for the last time. I am retiring "The DAR Library for All."
Lucky you! That means I'm putting my top tips here. No need to wait to hear the lecture anymore. The GRS is a great free website (with some of the information being finding-aids for records you will need to pay to get, free finding-aids are much better than no finding-aids or subscription finding-aids so don't complain!) I'm going ahead and posting this on TheOccasionalGenealogist.com because it's a great resource to go through in smaller amounts of time. It's relevant for any genealogist, occasional or frequent, though.

Because the research sections of the DAR website (the tabs making up the "GRS," the Genealogical Research System) change and are updated. I'm not including some of the information that was originally the core of this lecture. It started out as "The DAR GRS" when I lived outside Washington, D.C. My audiences had easy access to the DAR Library but when the GRS was first made public, it was NOT that easy to use. I had already been using it for over two years as a staff genealogist at the DAR so I could "translate" all the DAR-isms and explain some of the, uh, less than obvious navigation.

One of the reasons this lecture is being retired, I'm just not as fundamental in the user-website relationship, anymore. That's great news for you, the average user. I've been replaced with "information" icons. Which leads me to my number one tip...

Tip #1
Use the built in help features.

Initially there were almost no help features, just some static web pages that were constantly going out of date. The site has become more user friendly over the years and I assume it will continue to do so. That being said, I'm particularly annoyed as I write this post because I didn't give this lecture that long ago and there seem to be a million tiny changes that affect my static slides (I prefer giving the lecture as a live demo but Internet isn't always available). Even if you've used the GRS before, there may be new material or cosmetic changes you need help with. You wouldn't believe how many questions I get (usually via email, not in the actual lectures) from people wanting to know about a tab. Rarely do I have specialized knowledge required to answer the question. Instead, I simply look-up the details they want using the "information" icon (the GRS's equivalent of a help button).

The main page contains a description of the current tabs including some of the most useful/popular links--also found on the individual tabs. I notice this isn't completely up-to-date, though. Getting as much information as is available about each tab isn't that hard but you do need to pay attention. Some sections that have a search box only have a description in their tab's menu. For example, the "Resources" menu contains descriptions of each item. Once you reach the search box, there may or may not be an "Overview" link or information icon. If you find yourself at a search box and don't know what that box actually searches, look for the information icon, "overview," or "help." Here's an example where they've give you all three:
information icon
If you don't find any of those on the page with the search box, try going back to the main menu for that section (the Resources tab is the main menu for each item found under it but the Member tab requires you go back to the main menu for the entire GRS). It's not the clearest organizational system but it's a lot better than it used to be!

Tip #2
Understand What Each Search Box is Searching

That means you should read those descriptions, overviews, help, and information I just told you to look for. As an example, the "Bibles" tab is pretty new and was super exciting when I first saw it. Until I read the description and found out it is just searching a subset of the records searched by the GRC tab. In other words, it wouldn't find anything new, it just allowed you to only search for Bible records IN THE GRC volumes. I did a test search for a Bible record I found in an application and it didn't come up because it is only attached to an application, it wasn't transcribed into a GRC. So searching the Bible tab won't tell you if the DAR Library has a copy/transcription of a Bible, just if one was transcribed in a GRC volume, that's a pretty big distinction.

Tip #3
Don't Stop at the "Index"

That's a generic genealogy tip. In this case I mean you may need to, and should, request copies of records that are only indexed in the GRS. In the case of DAR applications/supplementals, you don't know anything about the sources used from the transcribed records available for free (and you are trusting they were transcribed correctly, as you would do with any transcribed record). I know what the most common issue when it comes to ordering "record copies." You don't want to keep forking out $10 to get a record copy that only cites previous applications. That leads to tip #4 but before I get to it, one option to get records from the DAR Library is to use the Library's "Search Services." Your other option is...

Tip #4
Hire a local researcher.

I used to do this for clients when I lived outside D.C., especially reviewing record copies and the supporting documentation to see if what they needed was there. If the DAR Library's Search Services won't work for you for whatever reason, you can hire a local researcher to view many of the records for free. You will have to pay the researcher for his or her time and any copies he/she makes (and probably their expenses such as parking or Metro costs) but you won't be shelling out $10 for each Record Copy they look at. You can find a local researcher through the local chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. They have their own directory making it a little easier to find someone in D.C. (you can also use the national APG directory but I've found glitches in location searches although other types of searches work fine).

Tip #6
The DAR Library Catalog is NOT in WorldCat

I don't think I need to explain this.

Tip #7
Understand the Library Layout for In-Person Visits

The DAR Library isn't laid out like other libraries. Particularly because it doesn't use dewey decimal (it's much easier to browse). As long as I remember, there has been a link for the Library called "Info for Beginners" which is for new library users, not new genealogists. Use this before you visit and ask for help at the Library desk if you need it.

Tip #8
Use Common Sense

Applications contain errors. Check dates and places, do the math!

Those are my top eight tips from "The DAR Library for All." You should take a look at the GRS if you have any U.S. research roughly older than 100 years. I've always told people to remember that the Library is there to help staff verify lineages from a Revolutionary Soldier to the present. Sure, it's heavy on early American records. But it's also heavy on unique records. With so much free information online, what do you have to lose?

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