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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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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 "DAR GRS" is a great free website provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). 

"GRS" stands for Genealogical Research System.

Originally this was an in-house database we used to help when verifying lineages for membership (and, fun fact, it replaced an actual card catalog the staff used to have to walk down the hall to use. I kinda wish I would have been forced to use the card catalog when I worked at the DAR, what great exercise!).

The GRS has evolved over the years, starting as that card catalog and then the in-house database. My original lecture was for audiences with easy access to the DAR Library. When the GRS was first made public, it was NOT that easy to use and was most useful for DAR Library "locals." (That's not the case any more.)

I had already been using the GRS for over two years as a staff genealogist at the DAR when it became publicly available so I could "translate" all the DAR-isms and explain some of the, uh, less than obvious navigation. I've retired the lecture because I'm just not as fundamental in the user-website relationship, anymore. That's great news for you, the average user. You should be able to jump in and use this site without help from an experienced 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Initially, there were almost no help features for this site, just some static web pages that were constantly going out of date.

Today you'll find the "information" icon or an "Overview" link to provide additional information. If you've never used the site, these are invaluable!

The GRS has become more user-friendly over the years and hopefully, it will continue to do so. BTW, the GRS has gotten some significant changes since going public however it seems to have settled down since 2016. Should you go to use it and discover it's changed since you last used it, look for the built-in help features to guide you.

Make note, the main page contains a description of the current tabs including some of the most useful/popular links--also found on the individual tabs.

Getting as much information as is available about each tab isn't that hard but you do need to pay attention. 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:

If you don't find help features 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).

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 (that's the Genealogical Records Committee [Reports], not Genealogical Research System, nearly identical acronyms, two different but related things). In other words, the "Bibles" tab wouldn't find anything new since I had already searched the GRC tab. The Bibles tab just allows 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 the most common issue when it comes to ordering "record copies." You don't want to keep forking out money to get a record copy that only cites previous applications. (I get it, me too.) 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.

Tip #5
Don't Stop at the GRS!

The GRS still includes the same parts it did in 2016. Remember, I said this used to be an in-house database for the Genealogy Department staff? That's the main focus of the GRS. The DAR website has had a lot of new information added so make sure you also check out the information under "Library" and "Archives." (If you'll be visiting in person you will also be interested in the "Museum" tab).

The Library and the Genealogy Department are two different departments. As a genealogist, you're more interested in the Library but it just happens the GRS is a gateway to genealogical information, as well. That's why the GRS was made public.

Tip #6
The DAR Library Catalog is NOT in WorldCat

If you search WorldCat, you won't be searching the DAR Library Catalog.

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). There is a link in the "Library" section of the DAR website that provides information about "Planning Your Visit."

Tip #8
Use Common Sense

Applications contain errors. Check dates and places, do the math! (See the follow-up post, "11 Hints for Using DAR Records in Genealogy" for more on this tip).

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. It is meant to aid research into American lineages back to a Revolutionary soldier plus it has resources provided by members and chapters.

With so much free information online, what do you have to lose?