Thursday, April 30, 2020

Start a family research project online!

Image courtesy of Ronda Walters.
This photo shows a ticket receipt for 
a family moving from Arkansas 
to California during the Great Depression.
Today’s technology provides a great outlet for people who are curious about how their ancestors dealt with times of crisis, like the one we face now. During this time of social distancing, beginning researchers can learn more about their own genealogy and family histories while staying at home  

Genealogy is defined as a line of descent traced from an ancestor (child to parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, etc.), while family history puts that lineage into the context of history, which consists of local, state, national and international events. 

Much like a detective at a crime scene, genealogists start with known informationThe researcher first documents his or her own date and place of birth, marriage(s)/divorce(s), places of residence, schools attended, occupations and important historical eventsNext, document the same type of information, plus any death and burial dates, for parents, siblings and extended family members. To do this, researchers can talk with older relatives to gain insight into ways family members lived day-to-day. Older relatives often have records, tips or insight into finding other family members who might have been missed. 

Searching for records on extended family members also gives researchers a broad understanding of their family. This is important for discovering how family members reacted and lived within their own historical contexts. For example, during the Great Depression, family members might have moved to different states to find employment. Knowing the historical context can help researchers find out where else to look for more documentation.  

Next, create a timeline for family members, and place each family member within the context of the broader timeline of historical events. There are multiple websites dedicated to world and U.S. historical events that may be useful. For example, the Library of Congress’s World Digital Library allows researchers to navigate timelines by places, dates and topics. Arkansas-specific timelines are available on multiple websites, including sites like the Secretary of State and Historic Arkansas Museum.  

Also, the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, a branch of the Arkansas State Archives, provides great resources to help research family lineage as well as placing that lineage within the context of Arkansas historyAlthough SARA and ASA are closed to the public during the COVID-19 epidemic, staff are monitoring email requests to help researchersStaff can perform reference lookups and limited research assistance when provided with names and narrow, specific date ranges. Some research records also are available online at 

Other sites may help get researchers started, including the free, which is a shared resource on family is another valuable free site to use as a starting point to find helpful family history resources 

Not everything on the internet is true, so just like detectives, researchers must verify and interpret clues and corroborate evidenceThere are free sites to help researchers learn more about genealogy proof standards, which should be followed in order to make one’s work credibleCheck out the National Genealogical Society’s website under the Learning Center tab for more informationFor Arkansas specific resources, check out the Arkansas Genealogical Society’s website 

There are a variety of reasons why researching family history is important, and they can depend on the individual researcher. For some, it can create a sense of well-being and pride knowing the struggles and accomplishments of one’s ancestors.  For others, it’s important to know family health history. There also is the joy of reconnecting with long lost family members and bringing about healing and forgiveness for past wrongs or misunderstandings between family members. 

As always, the staff at SARA is here to helpPlease don’t hesitate to send questions to or call 870-983-2633.