Research Tip of the Week

Know what you are looking for before you start searching.

It is important to know what records exist for a given time and place.

In the genealogical world it is common knowledge that a vast majority of the 1890 United States census was destroyed. A seasoned researcher will not waste time looking for a record they know doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, we all search for records that do not exist as a day to day part of the job but it is helpful to do a little pre-research homework and try to determine if the records you are looking for even exist. Work to understand the locale of your research subject. Did the courthouse burn? Did the location make any effort to record births before a certain date? Answering a few simple questions before searching can be a time saver.

When Disaster Strikes

Today I was dabbling around in records on yet another free genealogy research source  The Digital Public Library of America

One of the things I noticed about the records I was finding for the time and area I was searching was that many of the records had a note at the bottom indicating “the records survived the 1911 State Capitol fire.”

That sent me off to research the 1911 State Capitol fire in Missouri, which led me to, yet another free resource.  GenDisasters  is a free database of information that allows researchers to learn what events may have affected ancestor’s lives.

After a quick look at, I locate an article about a lightning strike in February 1911. Lightning struck the Capitol building in Jefferson City, Missouri about 8 pm on February 5, 1911 and a fiery inferno burned down the entire Capitol building including a great deal of the historical records held in the building.

My own ancestors passed through this region but briefly. They arrived around from Tennessee sometime during the 1880’s and most of my own line left the region for other areas by the 1930’s. Living in a distant part of the country local disasters such as this fire were not a part of my general knowledge. I have to concede that it is possible that some of the records I need and cannot find may have burned in that fire and consider that in my research going forward.