Going Offline to Solve Genealogy Mysteries

Everyone knows that Ancestry, FamilySearch, and other online databases have revolutionized the way we research genealogy. Online research makes it so easy to find a lot of information in a short amount of time and is perfect for those just beginning to search. Before the rise of this technology, family and local history research was painstaking and required poring through volumes at the library or a courthouse and walking around cemeteries hoping to find information on that elusive ancestor.

While the online genealogy sites are excellent, there is still a role for traditional offline resources. Often the reason you cannot find your ancestor is because they may not show up online at all. While much has been indexed, digitized, and put online, the majority of records are still not online. Expert researchers advise that offline searching is a must for anyone trying to build their family tree.

Our collection in the Research Room at the CALS Roberts Library houses over 47,00 items, consisting of books, magazines, pamphlets, and manuscripts. Sources include those from other states besides Arkansas. By limiting your searching to strictly online databases and internet sources, you just might miss a chance to break down that brick wall in your genealogical research.

One excellent, often underutilized resource in historical and genealogical research are city and county histories. Most counties have a local historical society, and many publish a historical and/or genealogical journal as well as county histories and other publications about their area. In our Research Room, you will find that we subscribe to all the journals from counties in Arkansas that publish them and journals from other states too. Many have been published since the 1950s and earlier. The collection contains many histories of cities, as well. Such publications can provide a wealth of information on people and places. Often, they contain information about prominent families and early settlers in the area; histories of churches, businesses, small cities, and communities; photos; and much more. They can be helpful in providing a glimpse of what life was like in the area where your ancestor lived.

One complaint about using this type of resource is the amount of time it takes digging into them, as they often are not indexed and require that painstaking effort of the past. Luckily for us in Arkansas, however, we have access to an online source for indexing of local history publications, including the Arkansas Gazette. While there is a print index to the Arkansas Gazette, it is incomplete. Here to help is Index Arkansas, a database hosted by the University of Arkansas Libraries.

The following is a description of the database from their website:

Currently, Index Arkansas has more than 100,000 citations, covering the 1880s to the present. Index Arkansas includes citations to articles and other information published in:

  • county history journals (from Benton County Pioneer to White County Heritage)
  • selected statewide magazines (from Arkansas Banker to Rural Arkansas)
  • selected newspaper articles from the Arkansas Gazette, Arkansas Democrat, Arkansas Traveler, Northwest Arkansas Times, and the Grapevine
  • selected book titles (such as Arkansas Biography, Governors of Arkansas, and Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration)

You can access this database by going to the Index Arkansas website at https://arkindex.uark.edu/ or from the CALS website at https://cals.org/research-tools/page/2/. You will find much of the indexed material in our collection.

Family histories are a particularly helpful offline resource, and we have a collection of over 2,500 of them. To find information about the location of places within the state or where families acquired land, there are several books that can be useful. Geographical reference materials include the Family Maps and Land Patent series from many counties across the country, a historical directory of post offices in Arkansas, the Township Atlas of Arkansas, and the Historical Atlas of Arkansas.

As mentioned earlier, newspapers are also a good source for genealogical information, but the lack of indexing makes it difficult to find needed information. Thanks to authors and compilers, we have numerous books containing obituaries, indexes of obituaries, and abstracts from articles in local, smaller newspapers around the state. Other sources in our collection include school and church histories, scrapbooks, yearbooks, annual directories, cemetery indexes, and much more.

Although the type and amount of material varies from county to county, there is so much potential to locate interesting stories and information in our offline resources. We invite you to visit us at the Roberts Library and see what nuggets you might uncover.


Click here for more information on visiting the CALS Roberts Library.

And click here for more information on our upcoming genealogy workshop on July 24.

By Alysanne Crymes, CALS Roberts Library Cataloguer






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