Beyond a burning desire to meet Geneabloggers I'd only known virtually, beyond my deep admiration for Mr. Lincoln and Springfield's resources, beyond the fact that this year's FGS conference was so close to home I could almost walk here, what sold me on this conference was the breadth of the course offerings.
They have not disappointed. I attended two Thomas Jones lectures yesterday, Lisa Alzo's Immigrant Cluster Communities and Debra Mieszala's Disappearing Dude lectures. All very well done and all emphasizing the need to approach research from far more than the birth, marriage and death record perspective. Understanding context, gathering details to construct a biography, tackle a brick wall or build collaborative research communities that reflect earlier immigrant communities - the theme of the day was broadening research and telling the stories.
Today my classes were all record based - very detailed and very informative. The theme today was knowing the lay of land - both in terms of navigating the record collections and understanding the geography of the area being researched.
I have mined all the obvious records for my especially challenging research targets. I've done the census records, the deeds, vital records, etc. The people I need to find are all born in the 18th c., all living on the frontiers where few records were kept or survive. I have new tools now!
Linda Woodward Geiger's U.S. Territorial Papers course introduced me to the records kept in the frontier areas and offered information on various finding aids to help dive into the various collections. I'm not likely to find vital records, but court cases, petitions, even postal records will provide context - and with luck one or two of my guys.
Craig Scott provided an overview of military records, both regular Army and local militia units, available for men who fought in the Indian Wars before the Civil War. For one who has avoided military research it was a bit overwhelming (I am following all those pre-conference recommendations to check out unfamiliar material!). But, I have a good beginning bibliography (first purchase is Military Service Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications - once it's available again), an awareness of what I need to start looking AND links. First stop is The U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Territorial and military records are almost completely new to me, and daunting enough. But I've actually tried to dig into the Draper Papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Think quicksand. 491 volumes or 130 reels of microfilm covering decades of Drapers research on the Trans-Allegheny West. Unindexed (mainly).
I was overjoyed to see a lecture by James Hansen introducing what he referred to as the (In)famous collection. I am not the first to find it intimidating. Hansen suggested that Draper himself was overwhelmed with the amount of material he gathered. Decades of research led to one book. I harbor a sneaking suspicion I may be afflicted with Draper Disease - always collecting, never producing! There are no shortcuts with the manuscripts, but there are finding aids and guides that can point one in the right direction. And, as Hansen pointed out, the material is fascinating. It may take days to pour through a small portion, but it'll be a good read.
This was a fabulous day. Technical, geeky, detailed and more exciting than I can express.