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.)

Kyle Hurst

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,, and she has also written for American Ancestors magazine.View all posts by Kyle Hurst