Monday, March 25, 2019

Where to Look When You
Don't Know Where to Look

The Internet is an indomitable frontier, a wild and woolly—and ever expanding—universe of knowledge. The only hope of ever taming it comes by arming one's self with finding aids. Search engines, for one, will help locate the answers we seek—but may serve us either for better or for worse, depending on our judicious choice of wording. Beyond that skill of framing the question—and then re-framing it, again and again—much like for archives and other analog repositories, there are finding aids.

For genealogy, several such devices come to mind. There are wikis devoted to such service—for instance, the one I've heard much about this past weekend at a DNA conference: the ISOGG Wiki.

For our intents, stuck as we are in the search for information on the family of one King Stockton of Glynn County, Georgia, and eventually, the northern Florida counties of Suwannee and Saint Johns, we need more generic search help—finding aids that will bring us closer to resources which speak of African Americans in the mid-1800s through the next hundred years.

When, last Friday, reader Lisa mentioned she was "watching to see where else" I would look, stuck as I am with the search for King Stockton, I thought that might be a good idea for a next post. After all, I am the genealogical guinea pig, and this blog is the unfolding of my discoveries (or flounderings) as they occur.

Sometimes, it is easy to assume that everyone else knows what we know. And so, thinking that, we naturally neglect to say it out loud—missing by that very assumption the chance to pass along a tip that might be helpful. Though it may be redundant for others stuck in the same search quandary, at the risk of repeating the obvious, I'd like to take the next few days to backtrack and mention some of the go-to places I've found useful when I'm stuck or wandering around in that daze or malaise of not knowing where to go next.

First, the other wikis. Just like Wikipedia for general knowledge—or specific places like the ISOGG Wiki for questions about genetic genealogy—there are other wikis devoted to genealogy. Primary among them is the FamilySearch wiki. A resource like that, though, can be so immense as to render a search a formidable task. I prefer to enter the FamilySearch wiki through the side door of a Google search, in which I first enter the website name in quotes—"FamilySearch wiki"—and then follow that with the term I'm actually seeking. If that term contains more than one word, I may also delineate that set of words in its own quote marks, as well—"FamilySearch wiki" "American slavery"—before I hit "enter."

Even a search as direct as that brings up multiple choices. Exploring a wiki like this can take hours, depending on how persistent you are. In pulling up such a search, I found there were multiple entries for slavery in general, slavery by country, and then—finally—results concerning African American slavery entries.

Many of the FamilySearch wikis provide background information on the topic being searched, providing a handy context for the material I'm after. Cutting to the chase of the links to get me those coveted genealogical answers may not be the wisest strategy, despite that strong desire to find the "answer" to my quest. Sometimes understanding the backstory can better inform the search from the start.

However, the FamilySearch wiki does provide handy lists of links, too. First, they provide "Quick Guides"—think of these as wiki-lite—which organize the links around brief descriptions of context; one link, for instance, leads you straight to a quick guide to general resources on African American genealogical research.

Some of the pages found while searching the FamilySearch wiki may seem to be redundant, but don't lose patience over that repetition. On this generic page about African American resources, I spotted the statistic that only about fifteen percent of enslaved persons adopted the surname of their most recent master, and while some took the name of an admired historical figure—George Washington or Abraham Lincoln come to mind here—others officially assumed a surname they had been using for years, even if the slave owner had never had any knowledge of that name.

Other pages found under that same generic topic on the FamilySearch wiki—on African American slavery—get right to the point with a list of links on the topic. While many of those links lead to federal records—such as the slave schedules in census records, even to specific census years—another approach is to drill down to the state level, finding, for instance, separate wikis for such resources for the state of Florida.

If that isn't enough material to get a researcher started—Kenyatta Berry recommended, at the conference I attended last weekend, constructing a spread sheet just for comparing facts found in the 1850 slave schedules in comparison with those recorded in the 1860 census—there are, of course, other finding aids to help us seek our research answers, too. Those, however, I'll save for tomorrow. And maybe the day after, as well. There are a lot of ways to find the answers we seek, provided the answers are out there in the ether to begin with.



  1. Thank you, Jacqui. This is really helpful. I know it will be too basic for some of your readers, but for me it is gold.

    1. Glad it is turning out to be useful for you, Lisa. There is actually a huge stack of websites which provide free genealogical resources, on top of the several subscription-based sites we tend to favor. On top of that, there are sites which we can discover by following history researchers and others from related fields which can also provide a different take on the materials that we typically find useful.

      Of course, that always implies more reading for the researcher, and that depressing thought that we'll never find the actual information we'd like to locate. But I believe the enriching of the contextual background better equips us to eventually zero in on the information that best addresses our search needs.


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