Friday, August 20, 2010

Homestead Genealogy Has Support

I just returned from the National Genealogical Conference that was held in Salt Lake City, Utah [April 27 – May 1]. The conference held a variety of workshops, presentations, and exhibits designed to support the legions of genealogists in attendance. This years conference had an attendance of nearly 3,000 people; one of the best turn outs in the history of the event. Most people go to a conference with an agenda, and I was no different; however, my agenda was to learn how genealogy could impact current historical methodology.

by Blake Bell
Homestead Historian

The welcome session was an eye opener for me. I walked into the Salt Palace (this complex is enormous) that was filled with young and old looking for tips that could lead them to their hidden ancestors. This was my first introduction to genealogy and I was interested in the process in which these dedicated individuals tracked down their family members. It was soon apparent that this was no easy task. Misinformation, false leads, and endless dead ends could easily lead to a constant state of frustration and hopelessness. However, by the end of the opening session, I realized that a genealogist is not an individual working in isolation, vulnerable to the endless archives, libraries, courthouses, and historical societies. There is a vast support network connected digitally throughout the world helping each other overcome the various obstacles that would have ended many searches just two decades ago.

Digital records are located all over the web, and they are increasing exponentially with every passing year. Birth records, marriage, death, land, and even criminal records are all accessible to those willing to seek them out. This has had a profound effect on genealogy, as well as scholarship. These disciplines use this information for different reasons; however, the ends are often the same. Each is looking to find truth in the past, whether it be for a personal family story, or developing a broader historical narrative or argument.

Throughout the week I attended several presentations having to do with everything from using databases, searching immigrant records, to of course, using homestead records. These presentations were full of hopeful genealogists looking, not only for a way to find an ancestor, but more importantly, they were looking to hone their craft. The conference mission was to provide individuals with the tools and networks they needed to succeed. An entire exhibit hall was designed to introduce genealogists to the vast amounts of information that they can access. As the conference came to a close minds and bodies were exhausted; some eyes were full of optimism, and others looked overwhelmed and confused, but all were better genealogists for having attended.

How did I feel leaving the conference? Well, I had already acquired many of the skills being taught in the presentations, but I had not realized the effort many of these individuals put forth in order to preserve their ancestry. I have experienced the thrill of finding that primary document that brings my historical argument together, but genealogy is much more personal, with higher emotional stakes to the participants. I look forward to the day when the Homestead Records are digitized and readily available to the genealogical world because the pieces to countless puzzles are undoubtedly hiding within these documents.

Homestead Records Broken Bow
Genealogy FAQs The National Archives
National Genealogical Society
Nebraska Homestead Records
Homestead Records Groundbreaking Research

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