After about two years of researching only online and at my local library, I decided that it was time that go to the Arkansas State Archives and do some research. Each state has an archive located in the capital city. This is what I like to call a one stop research spot for a particular state. The state archives holds different records for all the counties in the state. You can find the entire state census records by county, land records by county, tax records by county, marriage records by county, and other state documents, maps and books on state history. So when I decided that I would visit the state archives, I knew I had to have a plan on what I was looking for. I decided that I would focus my attention for this trip on marriage records.
In preparation for my trip to the state archives, I went through my family tree and wrote down all the marriages that took place in Arkansas. Then I went online to the state archives website to see exactly what was available for me to look at. I found on the website that there was marriage records for Jackson and Woodruff counties starting in 1870 – 1960. I matched the microfilm with the marriage date that I was looking for. That way when I arrived at the archives I would not only have a list of all the microfilm I needed, but I would also have the marriage date listed next to the microfilm to remind myself of what I was looking for on that microfilm.
For convenience purposes I normally go to the library, archives, and research centers on Saturdays. That has made me become more organized and more of a list person than I was before I started this journey. When I go to research on a Saturday, the research center that I’m researching always has limited hours and staff. So I like to have everything I’m looking for written down before I get there that way I’m not wasting my research time looking up call numbers and such. I have a list of priority items. These are the items I research first usually the main reason for going to that research center. Then I have a non-priority list. These are the items that I know they have at the research center, but I only request if there is time left after my priority items have been researched, found, and copied.
I had my research plan together, and we had decided what weekend we would be visiting Little Rock. I was getting excited this would be the first time I had researched outside of my house or in a public library. I was going to the state archives. I was starting to feel more like a genealogist than a family historian. I gathered some research necessities together, my backpack, a note-book, a pen, my family tree, some money for copies, and my research plan. The next morning I was off to the state archives on the hunt for marriage records. I had to drive myself, although I hate driving in unfamiliar places, I put the address in my GPS and hoped that I didn’t get lost. Well I did get lost, sort of. I drove around in a big circle for almost 45 minutes thinking this is time I could be looking at microfilm, but instead I’m out here lost. I knew I was on the right street, but somehow the GPS kept telling me to turn into the Arkansas Financial Administration building, and I knew that wasn’t right. So finally I called the state archives and told them where I was, and the lady gave me directions and stayed on the phone with me until I pulled into the correct parking lot.
Once I get inside, I had to show my ID, sign in, go through the metal detector, and the guard looks through my backpack. I’m thinking I have to go through all of this to look at some microfilm. I’m used to just going in to the public library with no extras, so this was a very different experience for me. After what seems like an eternity, I go upstairs to the research room. I go to the desk and tell the lady that I want to look at some microfilm. She makes me sign in, collects my ID, makes me register and get a name badge, and then tells that I can only have one notebook and a pencil out with me and to put my backpack in a locker. I ask if I can have my phone and she says yes, but no calls and no photos. I give her my list of microfilm I want to review. She comes back and assigns me to a microfilm reader, and finally I can start to look for these marriage records. Since I had the marriage dates I needed I was able to find all the marriage records I had come to look for in a fairly quick time frame. I found and copied my grandparent’s marriage records as well as my great grandparents. So far it had taken me longer to get to the archives and through security than it did to actually find what I was looking for. Since I had some time before they closed, I decided to take a look at the Jackson county 1965 special census in hopes to finding my ancestors. But unfortunately I didn’t find anyone. So I left the state archives feeling that my first visit there was successful.
My first few experiences when researching in person at libraries and archives have all been successful. I found most if not all of what I was looking for. I really feel that the time I put in making a research plan, looking at their websites to see what information is available, and knowing what I want to look at is the reason for those successes. And those successes are the reason that I’m no longer intimidated when I do go to new research centers, both driving there and actually researching. And this is why my journey continues….