Thursday, July 18, 2013

Preparing for a Research Trip to Washington D.C.

I am giving a presentation next week to the The North Hills Genealogists (of Pittsburgh) and the students of the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh on "Preparing for a Research Trip to Washington D.C." The handout has quite a few links in it and they are easier to click on than retype, so I decided to post them here. The benefit is that although many of you will not be at GRIP to hear the presentation, you can still use the advice and links.

Researching in Washington D.C.


Preparing for your research trip:

1. Check to see what records are available online, and what is available only in the repositories.

2. Use the online catalogs to identify the books and records relevant to your research.

3. Create a research plan of records to search. This will help make your research time more efficient.

National Archives

 Think of ways that your ancestors may have interacted with the federal government so you will know what types of records you want to research. Did they serve in the military? Did they buy federal land or apply for a homestead? Did they immigrate to the U.S.? Did they work for the post office or another federal agency?

The most commonly used records for genealogists are military service and pension records, and federal land records. The census, passenger lists and naturalization records have been digitized and are available online.

Land: Search the BLM database for ancestors who obtained federal land

Military: Search indexes at FamilySearch, Ancestry and/or for ancestors who served in wars. See links to military indexes below.

Other records: See links to research guidance by topic at

NARA resources for genealogists

Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library

The books are cataloged by “call words” rather than a numerical cataloging system. Search the online catalog by subject, geographic location, or family surname. HINT: Create a research plan, but also go and “sit” in front the books for the area you are researching and browse all the titles available.

In the Genealogical Research System (GRS) you can search for Revolutionary War patriots and their descendants, as well as the Genealogical Records Committee volumes (family bibles, cemetery transcriptions, etc. collected by DAR members).

Library of Congress

There are wonderful resources in the Library of Congress and you may want to visit the following reading rooms: Local History and Genealogy, Newspapers and Periodicals, and Geography and Maps.

Online Catalog
Research and Reference Services

Military Indexes on
Pension Indexes

Service Record Indexes

Regular Army Registers of Enlistment

1 comment:

  1. You have created a very good paper that everyone should use as a guide to starting their research in Washington. It will take some time to fully check each of these areas but you have identified all of the various doors they need to open. One addition would be at the Library of Congress. Once they have a Reader Card, they can go online to request books be pulled in advance of their visit. This way the books are waiting for them when they arrive or you know in advance that the book is no longer available as they e-mail you when they find the book.