Saturday, July 16, 2011

Itinerant Genealogist

“Have research destination; will travel.” Hmmm…has a western sort of feel to it. I like that—though this time, we’ll be headed east.

August managed to free up some time in the old calendar, so we’ll be traveling through Indiana, home of some relatives of the great-great magnitude. In preparation, I’ve been checking out specific county and city destinations, to assure we make the most of our limited time.

In addition, I’ve been posting on some trusty genealogy forums, seeking advice on local records, as it’s been years since we’ve stopped in Lafayette, Indiana. This trip, I’m hoping to peruse some church records from the 1850s to resolve some documentation irregularities on my Stevens and Kelly lines.

A forum member helpfully suggested that I access microfilms of church records at the state library. I’ve recently posted on using state archives, but I had never been to Indiana’s collection, so I thought I’d follow through on that tip. However, now that we’ve crossed the fiscal-year line for state budgets, I was alarmed to recently read signs of the economy’s impact on some of these helpful repositories.

I'll keep that warning in mind. Better make last-minute double-checks. It is always helpful to make those connections pre-arrival rather than waiting until it’s too late to change course. In addition, I realized that the genealogy collection there, which I’ve been advised has quite a bit of material I’d be interested in, doesn’t come with a fully-itemized listing on their online catalog. So I’m hoping to get some clarification from the librarian there via email. I want to make sure the resources I’m seeking are not only there, but accessible during all hours the library is open—and accessible by all patrons. If any special arrangements need to be made prior to arrival, I want to check that out, too.

There are several items I want to find while I’m there. I’m looking for Stevens and Kelly records in the 1850s, mainly. I have tentative records already, but due to that era’s lax handling of spelling, I’d like to double and triple check. For instance, some records I’ve already found use the spellings “Stephens” and “Kelley.” This is excusable, considering the time period. But in addition to that, I also have some records which actually changed “Stevens” to “Stephenson.” While this sort of name-morphing happens to that surname even today, I don’t feel the freedom to blindly accept that the only Stevens-Kelly marriage record I’ve been able to find in Lafayette for that decade is one that is actually labeled for Stephenson. I’m hoping for a second smoking gun.

So, I’m looking for marriage records. Then Stevens birth records—actually, baptismal records—for their three sons, James, John Kelly, and William. And then, that missing documentation of wife Catherine Kelly Stevens’ untimely death shortly after the birth of her third son.

Since these events occurred in the 1850s, city and county did not yet provide documentation. I have to rely on church records. And since, according to church histories online, the churches I’m looking for were barely established at that time, there may be some real challenges for us this August. On the other hand, state archives are usually great repositories for newspaper collections. The Lafayette papers aren't generally accessible online, so the state library's collection will be just the place to make up for that lack.

What would I find if I didn’t look? Now is our chance to hit the trail. So, state archives, county research centers: here we come! Here’s hoping we rustle up some evidence in their yet-to-be-digitized collections.

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