The Sport of Genealogy

NEHGS staff and tour participant.
NEHGS staff and tour participant.

After a week of researching in Washington, D.C., with the NEHGS tour, one of the many things I have learned is that genealogy is more of a sport than a hobby. It takes physical and mental strength and endurance to pursue the ultimate prize of accurately identifying an ancestor.

The primary purpose of the tour was to give participants research assistance at three national repositories: the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library. The first days consisted of obtaining the reader cards to access the research rooms and of receiving orientations from the staff at each location. We were then able to choose where to research during the latter half of the week.

Outside the National Archives.
Outside the National Archives.

In essence, we participants began our week of training by bulking up our brains. Following thorough introductory instructions by team leaders Ginevra Morse and Rhonda McClure, we received coaching from Henry Hoff on methods for dealing with inaccuracies in source materials and from David Allen Lambert on researching Civil War ancestors. By midweek we were ready for more, and Rhonda provided extra tips about using record group 85 (concerning immigration) at the National Archives. Throughout the week, all four experts remained on hand to assist us as we navigated the obstacle courses presented by each repository and our research.

Like an athlete at the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, I could not contain my awe when I entered the Library of Congress. It is so large that it comprises three separate buildings, and we had the physical challenge of walking in long tunnels between the Madison and the Jefferson Buildings. Other participants took advantage of the map and newspaper rooms, but I could not bear to leave the gorgeous Main Reading Room. From my laptop, I ordered books on a wide range of topics to be delivered to my desk and then received emailed status updates. Keeping those books from sliding off the desk tested my stacking skills.

Reading Room at the Library of Congress.
Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

At the National Archives, I was most keen to photograph Civil War pension records, as they are expensive to order by mail. These packets could contain all kinds of documents. One featured a death record from England, where the former bugler had died. Another contained account books and letters showing that the parents needed the pension to support themselves upon the death of their son during the war. Almost 650 images on my camera later, I had succeeded in my task  . . . and developed a hand cramp.

Daughters of the American Revolution Library.
Daughters of the American Revolution Library.

Another of my goals was to prove my lineage to the Revolutionary War patriot Daniel Newingham. That was best accomplished by researching at the Daughters of the American Revolution Library. In addition to the vast collection of family and local histories in the flag-bedecked library, the library provides online access to DAR applications, supporting documentation, and the Genealogical Records Committee Index in its Seimes Technology Center. I was able to view and print a transcription of the baptism for Daniel Newingham’s son, which stated that his parents were natives of County Dublin, Ireland. That was my gold-medal find from the tour!

At the end of this extremely educational week, I found myself exhausted but exhilarated in the same manner as long-distance runners who are crossing the finish line. After a little rest, I am already looking forward to the next genealogy marathon.

(Photos by Kyle Hurst, except for LOC Main Reading Room, courtesy of  Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

About Kyle Hurst

Kyle, Genealogist of the Newbury Street Press, holds a B.A. in both history and anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and has a master’s certificate in Museum Studies from Tufts University. With experience at the National Archives and Record Administration in Waltham, Kyle has worked on a wide variety of research projects as part of the Research Services team at NEHGS and, with Newbury Street Press, has contributed to a number of family histories. She has been credited for her contributions to The Root, TheRoot.com, and she has also written for American Ancestors magazine.

13 thoughts on “The Sport of Genealogy

  1. A great Vita Brevis. I was surprised you were able to photograph Civil War pension records. New technology is changing the way we use libraries.

  2. In reference to the first paragraph: Why am I not losing weight with all that ancestor hunting! And a good portion of the time my brain is fried from all the studying & research, 😉

  3. Kyle, what an excellent description of the challenging research process for the “long-distance” genealogist! It sounds overwhelming to this neophyte. With three huge collections and multiple buildings, was there a way to access their collections online beforehand to help guide one to the right location?

    1. Viola, OF COURSE it’s an addiction, a perfectly legal one, I might add. But forget a GA (Genealogy Anonymous) 12-step program.

      If patterned after AA or similar support group’s meetings, even without our laptops, 3-ring binders, Smart phones, etc., and even if we were thoroughly searched at the door for hidden “crib sheets” or key names/dates inked on our palms, you can be sure that before the meeting’s end, using only the data stored burned into our brains from years of research, we’d figure out how every person in the room was related to everyone else, even marginally, and most likely knock down a few brick walls in the process!

  4. As a fellow participant for the Washington DC research tour I want to thank Ginevra, Rhonda, David and Henry for a great experience at these repositories. All three lectures were informative. David and Rhonda helped me navigate submissions at the National Archives and Henry really helped open several family lines for me at the DAR library. I would encourage anyone thinking doing research in DC to attend the next tour with NEHGS. It was a great educational and research experience. And of course kudos to Ginevra for keeping the whole operation running smoothly no matter what obstacles were thrown in her path.

  5. I’m glad I’m not the only one to wear myself out researching!

    Judy, all three repositories have online catalogs you can search, and there will be information included about accessing the materials. I highly recommend compiling a list of things you want to view before going. This will ensure you make the best use of limited time, especially considering both the National Archives and Library of Congress will be pulling the resources and delivering them to the research rooms (instead of letting you browse the collection like at the DAR Library). One of the advantages of researching in this era is that most repositories have online catalogs . . . which can also help you decide if it’d be worthwhile to visit a particular repository at each stage of your research.

    Marc, getting to know you and the other participants was part of what made my experience so worthwhile!

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