Many genealogy training and credential programs recommend you create your own locality research guide. Instead of reinventing the wheel, utilize the free FamilySearch Wiki and add to it when you discover new genealogically important resources.
Before I expand on my invitation to edit the FamilySearch Research Wiki, let me first discuss the fundamentals and purposes of reference guides in family history research.
Watch this video on YouTube.
What is a locality guide in genealogy?
A genealogy locality research guide assists family historians as they investigate their ancestry and heritage. The locality guide provides information about the history, culture, laws and statutes, and customs that impact record collections and a genealogist’s research plan.
Locality guides may focus on the smallest political units such as villages, hamlets, and townships, to the largest country or empire.
The locality guides maintain links to online record collections, newspapers, maps, and other reference material. When no resources are available online, the guides mention relevant books, periodicals, and manuscripts.
With all of these resources in one central location, a genealogist can spend more time researching and less time trying to locate the right records to search.
What should be included in a genealogy locality research guide?
Your personal genealogy locality guide can contain anything relevant to your research. Research guides include topics such as:
Major and minor repositories
Customs and laws
Reference to statutes
Reference to statutes application and explanation
Other research guides from major genealogy websites and archives
Unique collections on the internet
Record collections (including but not limited to vital, land, probate, tax, census, and church records).
You’ll want to ensure you also include links, offline resources, and explanations that discuss the historical events and record availability as it pertains to your research.
The group that certifies Accredited Genealogists has preliminary outlines that you can use to create a locality guide. This link covers the US Southwest Region.
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Why create a genealogy research guide?
The sarcastic response to the above question is, “Because I have to.” Many genealogy certifying organizations and degree programs insist, if not require, you to create one.
Many genealogy educators suggest that creating a genealogy research guide helps you build your research skills by discovering the resources available for each political unit and the historical context that may have impacted specific individuals.
Others say locality guides save you time by compiling often used resources in one spreadsheet, text document, or note tool. (Few have encouraged using Pinterest as a reference guide, but in my blog post “Pinterest+Genealogy“, I show you how you can.
HOWEVER, after spending 80 hours compiling a locality guide for Ohio, I had to stop and question my sanity. Why was I reinventing the wheel?
I reflected on other fields Andy and I have studied. We have never improved our skills as journalists, market researchers, and engineers by creating reference guides for our professions. We improved our skills by applying the resources compiled by others to our specific projects and problems.
Then and there, I stopped creating additional research guides from scratch. I sought out guides I could purchase or access for free.
What is the FamilySearch Wiki?
According to the FamilySearch website, “the FamilySearch Research Wiki is a free, online genealogical guide … [where] people can learn how to find their ancestors. It offers information on how to find, use, and analyze records of genealogical value.”
Links to online databases, archives, and resources that assist in researching an ancestor’s records
Instructions on how to find, search and interpret genealogical records
Definitions of legal terms, occupations, and other historical terms that benefit genealogists.
Volunteers the world over contribute to these free research resource guides for specific locations to help others quickly access the necessary reference material.
I consider the FamilySearch Wiki my portal to genealogically significant records to further my family history research projects. AND, it saves my sanity.
We Can Add to the FamilySearch Locality Research Guides
As Helen Keller apparently said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Why would we ever want to waste 80 hours migrating the resources from the FamilySearch Wiki to our own files with the false hope we will become better researchers?
If we find the FamilySearch Wiki lacking in detail about a specific area we research, we can ADD to the site rather than complain that the resource is insufficient.
The genealogy community has many giving individuals who want to help others find their families. This is another avenue where you and I can assist in this effort.
Who can edit the FamilySearch Research Wiki?
At the time of this post, I have not found any restrictions on who can edit the FamilySearch Wiki. The Wiki has policies and guidelines and the site administrators block those who violate the rules. Otherwise, you and I can add to and enhance the Wiki.
We can add the following improvements:
Links to genealogical repositories, society, libraries, and other pertinent archival institutions (link updates welcomed)
Links to new online genealogy databases
Lists of resources found in an archive or library
Updates to inaccurate historical or geographical information
If we have small changes and/or do not want to learn how to edit the Wiki (the process is a little scary for some), then we can submit improvements to a specific locality page via this link.
If we want to make more significant changes, then we need to request editing privileges through this page.
While I encourage you to contribute to the FamilySearch Wiki and eliminate the need to create a separate locality research guide, you might still want to create your own. Here are a few resources that might interest you: