Thursday, August 6, 2009

Research Trip Report: The DAR Library

I really wish I could get back to D.C. more often! Once every two or three years is simply not often enough. My "to-do" list is so long that it's not always easy to come up with a manageable plan. This trip was also combined with the ACBL Summer National Bridge Tournament, so I lost a few days of research time to the bridge tables. I had tentatively reserved one morning at the DAR Library investigating supporting documents for a half dozen subjects. If you've ever done this, you know that it's a little time-consuming. Supporting documents are filed in folders named for the relevant patriot. Each contains a hodge-podge of information of varying value, everything from, "My father told me all about his grandfather's family," to pages from family Bibles, photographs of no longer extant tombstones, and eighteenth-century letters. You request a folder, mark the items of interest to be photocopied, then wait for your copies. At least, that's the way it used to be done.

I arrived at the library moments after it opened. The guard at the door told me that the only thing that had changed since I was there five years ago was the entrance to the library. He was wrong. When I told the librarian that I wanted to see some supporting documents, he said, "We've recently finished digitizing all the supporting docs. They're part of an in-house database, and you can see them on a computer in the Seimes Center." Hurray! He then informed me that the center was no longer in the basement of the building, gave me directions, and sent me off.

Instead of being greeted by microfilm readers, when you enter the center you're now greeted by several computer terminals. Select the Ancestor Database, find your subject of interest, and start viewing the available supporting documents. Printing a page is a snap. Hit a few buttons and the page is sent to a central printer. When you're finished, pick up your photocopies at the reference desk. Copies are $0.20 per page for supporting documents and $10 for a copy of a member application. I finished my tasks in half the time I planned, but fortunately, I always carry a mental "to-do" list. Here's one of my lovely finds.

Mr. John Stephenson,
Warren County Ohio.

Greene County Pa. May 31st, 1816.

Dear Son:-

In the providence of God I am bereaved of your dear mother and likely my mind is too much swallowed up in grief, though I believe I should not mourn as those that have no hope. Though I enjoy common health for one of my age yet I am fast following my dear partner, and a few days or years at most, I must make trial of the invisible and eternal world, O" to be well prepared to go. For the time and circumstances of your Mothers death, I refer you to your brother James letter and also of your relatives here. I remain your affectionate father,

Hugh Stephenson

The Genealogical Records Committee reports are also being digitized. I asked about the possibility of these databases going online and was told that rumors about a possible subscription database were floating around. I hope those rumors are true. I love going on research trips, but I also love researching in my bathrobe at 1 a.m.

No comments: