Years ago, the California Genealogical Society created a poster featuring a drawing of an iceberg. The caption, in part, read, "Genealogy Research: Internet is just the tip of the iceberg." The poster continued by explaining that successful research also requires the willingness to check many other resources.
When we are called upon to name some of those "other resources," some of us are able to think of courthouses where records are created and stored, or governmental archives. Sometimes, we remember to check our local libraries—and maybe the libraries of our ancestors' own hometown. But beyond that, many of us might be hard pressed to name any other likely resource for a given research question.
Having a finding aid to guide us in a new-to-us research location would be helpful. Thankfully, there are such aids, at least for places where volunteers have been resourceful enough to make available their secret stashes for other researchers. I sometimes found the old GenWeb sites—both American and international—to serve quite capably in that capacity. Though I seldom resort to it, Linkpendium also comes to mind as a way to ferret out those hidden local resources. But now, with so many resources online, I simply turn to a good ol' Google search to find material which I might otherwise have missed.
Sometimes, though, the resources we seek might be right under our noses—but we don't even realize it. I'm reminded of an experience this past month in helping a new member of our local genealogical society. This member, who joined online from quite a distance from our own city, inquired about finding a book for which she had received a photocopy from her now-gone grandmother. All she had was the book's title and author—and a convincing picture of a very blurry photocopied front page.
In receiving such a request, my first thoughts were to check the online catalog listing the books in the holdings of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or the genealogy center of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. Thankfully, instead of that, I made my first step a trip to the online collective of public libraries known as WorldCat.org.
There—perhaps you've guessed it—I discovered four libraries nearby which have that specific book in their holdings, including our own city library. There was a catch, however: the book was not in the stacks, nor in the reference section, but locked away in a special collection labeled simply, "Local History." Who would have known there was such a place? But knowing that now, I could go and ask the reference librarian how to gain access so I could see the book for myself.
How many other libraries have secret stashes like that? How many local residents are aware of such holdings—let alone those of us researching that community from miles away?
Sometimes, we may discover help in already-compiled finding aids. Sometimes, developing a deft hand at trawling the Internet with the help of search engines can make the difference. But there are other times when we simply need to follow our noses and learn to ask questions as we move along the research path.
Once we get there—that place where, finally, we discover the answer to our previously unanswerable question—the all-important next step is to write down what we were looking for and where we found it. Who knows? We may be retracing our steps to this very spot for another genealogy question in the future.