I’m sure there are a few of you out there who remember having to research far away places via the good old Post Office. Don’t get me wrong – you can still do it, but today’s experience has reminded me just how much easier things are now than in the good old days. To be clear – I’m talking about information gathering- not browsing scanned images, online indexes, etc. While I don’t have it in my hand yet (or know exactly what “it” will be), I was able to track down a lead in less time than it would have taken to find a stamp on my cluttered desk and mail the first letter. Hopefully you will read this and become inspired to track down and order that document from that far away courthouse or archive.
Here’s my story for today:
1. Several months ago, I corresponded with another Staats researcher via email. It was refreshing. This wonderful woman had been researching for over 30 years, her search had expanded to include Staats families outside her own AND she had actually noted the sources of her information. (Thank you, Dottie Kerns!) She sent me a reference to something about my Elijah Staats family, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Fortunately, she had the complete title of the publication, the page, and a transcription of the entry. From what she sent, I could tell it was some kind of index to some kind of court records, but I didn’t know what court or what this publication was. For a few months, it lurked in the back of my mind, and I didn’t do anything with it.
2. Today at about 1 pm, I had a minute or two to spare and decided to see what I could find out. I Googled the title of the publication and got some confusing results. I limited the search to Google Books and got even more confusing results. Then I tried WorldCat. I got some results for the title, but the closest library that had it was the Columbus Metropolitan Library (OH)- about 2.5 hours from me. Checking their online catalog, they did indeed have the volume and issue number I needed in their non-lending genealogy collection. What to do next?
3. At 1:15, I emailed the Columbus Metropolitan Library. I mentioned that I was trying to figure out this index entry, and provided the title, the call number from their catalog, and the entry as it was sent to me. I asked how I might get a copy, or even if they could just tell me the name of the article and what the index was covering. Then I headed back to work.
4. Less than an hour later, I got a reply. In their reply, they attached a pdf file of the title page, table of contents, and the page I referenced plus the pages immediately before and after it.
5. This evening, I checked out the Fayette County, PA website, found the name and email for the County Archivist, and asked about how I might locate/get a copy of the December 1799 term of the Common Pleas Appearance Docket (not filmed by FHL), and also whether or not the original case files might exist and how to access them. Because the library sent three pages, I knew that not all the entries had numbers beside them. Mine did, which was a pretty good indication that it, at least at one time, had an associated file somewhere.
Unfortunately, I can’t end the story telling how I received the case files which contained the answers to everything I’d ever wondered about this family. I don’t even know if there are case files. I don’t know that the Appearance Docket contains any more information than was included in the index. Maybe I won’t get any more information than I already had. However:
What I do know is that, thanks to the internet, without moving more than a foot nor spending more than twenty minutes, I was able to follow up on a lead, ask for help, receive help, and find where and how to ask about a resource that isn’t on the internet, has never been microfilmed, and is at a courthouse that I can’t easily research in person. If they don’t have those records, then I can make a note and move on. If that ain’t progress, I don’t know what is.
As I side note, I also learned that Fayette County, PA is undertaking a major record scanning project to make records available for use on the internet. No details were available, but I can’t wait!
Now get out there and track down a few leads of your own!