Thursday, December 27, 2012

Research Binders Part II

T. J. asked a question that was related to research binders and I promised him I would do a followup to explain WHERE to look for the information you need for the binder. You can read T. J.'s question HERE. This post will only be discussing where to find stuff for a specific location (there are other parts to a research binder). You can read the original blog post on research binders HERE.

I checked my file and I have never done research in the state of North Dakota so I will use that as an example. Initially, I would be looking for information about North Dakota generally and then I would add info on the individual counties that I will be researching in. What sort of information am I looking for?

1) I would want to put together a timeline from the time the state was formed until at least 1900. I would want info from before the state was formed if that is relevant. Was the state a territory first? Where there settlers well before statehood? Things like epidemics, natural disasters, participation in wars along with local skirmishes like Indian uprisings, and political upheavals would go on the timeline.

2) What types of industry and agriculture have they had over their history?

3) I would also want present day and historical maps, both political and topographical. Are there any known migration routes?

4) What records were held at the state level?

5) How is their legal system organized?

6) What major depositories exist and what records groups do they have?

Where would I look for this information?:

1) First stop, the State Historical Society of North Dakota. This is interesting because although it says historical society this is the government state archives. This web site also covers the North Dakota State Museum.

2) Next stop, the North Dakota State University Archives.

3) The FamilySearch Catalog page for North Dakota (remember, I would also run this search for each individual county I was researching in).

4) The FamilySearch Wiki page. Sometimes these pages have some interesting factoids that will help you out.

5) RedBook, American State, County, and Town Sources and The Handybook for Genealogists are my two favorite books to obtain general state information and to start looking at county level things like when each county was formed and if the specific county had any records losses.

6) Don't discount the North Dakota Wikipedia page. It is great for an overview and you can glean all kinds of things that will lead you in other possible directions.

7) I own a current Rand McNally atlas as well as Ani-Map. I use these no matter what state I am working with. I would also reference the North Dakota Department of Transportation maps. I would do an internet search for "migration routes." There is a lot of great info out there to give you an idea of how people got to North Dakota. Whenever you are using a website, you need to check the author's sources. The Handybook (already mentioned) also has migrations routes listed and mapped out.

Even though I know nothing at all about North Dakota, I know where to look for the information I need. Once you understand the process, you can do this with any state or any county. All of the info found goes into your research binder. The next time you need it, it will be there and you won't have to do all of that work again. It took me about 5 minutes to find all of the above but I can assure you it would take me a lot longer than that to extract the info I needed and to get it into a form that is easy for me to access. All of it then needs to be copied and placed in the binder.

I still keep a physical research binder but many people do this on the computer using Microsoft's One Note or the freebie Evernote. I can certainly see the benefits of doing it this way, especially in the day and age of laptops, tablets, Kindles and smart phones. It is so much easy to take all of your stuff with you. I am still a dino though. I haven't committed completely to converting my stuff over to the electronic way of doing things though I have experimented a bit with it.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I use both Evernote and OneNote for research binders, but use the Repository as my header. Have a sheet with names found in a county, state, Have a sheet with records available. Because I am in KY with most of my research, I have KY resources books which are better described than "Red Book" or others. [My personal opinion]Local genealogy societies in a state are an excellent resource.

  2. One of these days I am going to do it this way. I just need to figure out exactly how I want to organize it all :)