While puzzling over my current research project—discovering more about the family of Eliza Murdock Stevens—I recalled some local resources I had accessed well over fifteen to twenty years ago. Some of those were places I visited back then during research trips to Lafayette, Indiana. Others were small, locally-created websites focusing on Tippecanoe County, of which Lafayette serves as county seat. While their holdings were not the stellar digitized document collections we've become accustomed to finding from well-known international corporations, they had exactly the information I needed to push my progress one step closer to family history answers.
The trouble with such local resources is that they are not standardized. They are not carbon copies of the stuff you'd find at the next county, too. You just have to know about them. Sure, Google may help find some sites otherwise hidden from plain view. But fifteen or twenty years ago, it was a matter of finding places, one by one, asking questions, posting queries, searching, searching, searching.
During those early years of Internet genealogy, I learned about the Tippecanoe County Historical Association's Alameda McCollough Research Library and added it on my wish list as a must-see stop for the next time I traveled to that area.
I learned also about the Tippecanoe County page on the USGenWeb project and its hodge-podge of clickable links to multiple Lafayette resources. Over the years, I also became aware of indexing projects put online on the old RootsWeb site by local volunteers—some of them featuring obituaries and death notices on the old RootsWeb site, others transcribing death records.
It has irked me this past week that I couldn't find some obituaries for Murdock family members and their in-laws. Of course, now we have the FamilySearch wiki to consult for information on local resources, or the local pages on Linkpendium. Traveling back to Indiana would be out of the question for me right now, but this week, I did wish I could find one website I remembered had transcribed the details of local obituaries.
As it turned out, I did locate that obituary resource I had remembered from years ago—but the date range was too late for my current research goal. And yet, having learned the ins and outs of what is available for family history researchers in the local area helped me retrace my steps.
Perhaps I will be able to find what I'm looking for by other means now, but this search reminded me of the value of getting to know the specifics of what resources are available at the local level for whatever place our family may have settled. Not everything is accessible from major websites. More than that, not everything is available online. We may still need to be prepared to travel to a local repository—but how will we know where to go if we don't research what's available in that specific city or county?
Sometimes the best source for such an answer can come from local people. Ask local librarians, local genealogical or historical societies, or archivists of specialized local collections. However you do it, get to know what's available at the place where your family once lived. One-of-a-kind collections may be hiding the best resource you have yet to find, but you'll never discover such a spot until you resign yourself to the unavoidable idiosyncrasies of local research.