Preparing to Visit the DAR Library During Continental Congress

Written by: Stacie Newton, DAR Library Director
May 24, 2017

Many members who come to Continental Congress bring research questions for themselves or to help other members or prospective members of their chapters.  They hope to be able to use the resources in the DAR Library and the Seimes Technology Center to find the documentation needed to complete a DAR Application or Supplemental.   It is very easy for first time visitors to the DAR library to be overwhelmed by the different types of resources available and by the number of members who are trying to use the same resources and materials.

Here are several tips that can help you to plan your research and make effective use of your research time while you are here in the DAR Library. 

Before you come:

  • Identify the specific question(s) that you want to answer. Determine what specific pieces of information you need.  Are you looking for documentation to prove the date of birth or death for a specific individual in your lineage?  Or, are you trying to establish the generational link (the parent/child relationship) between individuals?  Or, are you trying to locate Revolutionary War service for a particular potential patriot ancestor?   Being aware of the specific question or issue is particularly important if you bring research questions from other members or prospective members in your chapter.  In these cases, you may not be as familiar with the lineage as you might be with your own research, so make sure you know exactly what you need to look for before you get here.
  • Brainstorm about the types of documents that you might need to look for to resolve each of the specific questions on your list. If you need to locate proof of the date of death for a specific individual, you might want to make a list of the types of sources in which you might find that proof.  Are you going to look for a death record, an obituary, a cemetery record, or a probate record?  Make sure you know what research has already been done.  If you’ve already found a cemetery record and it didn’t give you the answer that you needed, then you will want to make sure that you don’t spend more time repeating that search.
  • Prioritize the questions you want to answer. Decide which questions are the most important.  Determine which questions might be more time-sensitive for which the answers need to be found right away. Do you need to spend more time trying to resolve a question for a pending Application for which you have received an AIR letter, before you spend time doing research for a supplemental that a chapter member might want to submit in the future?  You also might want to prioritize questions that can only be solved at the DAR Library over other questions where the records needed might be available from other sources.
  • Review the resources available at the DAR Library. The DAR Library catalog is available online.  Search the catalog for the locations, types of records, surnames or subjects that you will be researching.  Familiarize yourself with DAR’s call word system. It’s a bit different from what is used in most libraries. Also keep in mind that certain types of documentation (like recent vital records) will not be available at the DAR Library.  Come prepared with a list of items that you want to look at.  If you see items that you are interested in that have call numbers or notes that indicate that they are Manuscript items or files; that they are in the Locked Case or are in Poor Condition; or that they are shelved on the Lower Level; you will need to have those items retrieved by the Library Staff.  Be prepared to submit a pull-slip at the reference desk and wait for a short period of time for the requested items to be retrieved from the closed stacks or storage areas.
  • Get organized! Make sure that you have all of the information that you need readily available. Nothing is more discouraging than to arrive at the Library ready to solve a research problem only to realize that you left the folder with all the details at home.  Consider digitizing the materials and having copies saved on your laptop or other device. Have a backup available either on a flash drive or in the cloud.

When you get to the Library:

  • Get oriented. Before you begin you research, make sure you know where everything is.  If you haven’t visited the Library recently, come to the DAR Library Orientation on Tuesday morning.  At the reference desk, we have handouts for using the Library and an updated map that identifies where the resources for each state, surname and collection are shelved.
  • Be prepared for crowds. Due to the number of members who come to the Library during Continental Congress, seating and work space will be limited at times. 
  • Allow sufficient time to for your research. Plan to spend enough time in the Library or Seimes to find the documentation that you need.  It is usually not a good idea to try to squeeze your research in to the ten minutes that you have between two other commitments.  And, don’t forget to allow plenty of time for copying or printing the documentation that you found.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  We’re here to help, but…
  • Be patient. At times, it may be necessary to wait.  Whether it is waiting for a manuscript to be brought up from the closed stacks; waiting for another member to finish using the book you need to see; waiting in line at a copy machine; or waiting for a computer in Seimes to become available; please be patient. 

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Each member of our library staff is very knowledgeable about genealogy research.  We want to help you find the sources you need, but we are not able to offer extended research consultations—particularly during Congress. Balcony volunteers will be available Wed-Fri to assist members with questions on submitting applications or supplementals, including research questions.
  • If you are trying to locate documentation to resolve an issue for a pending application or supplemental for which you have already received an AIR letter from a Staff Genealogist, the Library Staff will not be able to advise you on whether a particular source will or will not resolve the problem.  If you have questions about an AIR letter, you should consider making an appointment to speak to the Staff Genealogist who wrote the letter.

We hope these tips will help you have a productive research experience at the DAR Library and enhance your Continental Congress experience!

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