National Institute on Genealogical Research

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Two CGS board members attended last month’s National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR), an intensive program at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington D.C. According to the NIGR Web site, this year’s program focused on “commonly used immigration, military, land, cartographic, African-American, and non-population census records.” In addition to the core lectures and presentations, the program includes one day at Archives II in College Park, Maryland, and optional evening sessions at the Library of Congress (LOC) and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library.

CGS News editor, Jane Hufft, sent this report:

It was a great six days – absolutely exhausting, I might add, because of the heat, the distance between NARA and the hotel, the time change, and the daunting schedule of classes and field trips. Our plane was delayed six hours in Pittsburgh and we arrived after midnight EDT having risen that morning on California time at 4:00 a.m. Were I to do it again I would go one or two days early, stay one day after, and have my own laptop as the hotel charged hugely for access to their computers. You are expected to be able to manage in DC on your own for transportation and meals and they did not do much shepherding, partly because a number of people are local. Walking shoes, cash, and sun gear are mandatory, and I wished I had a small rolling backpack for the daily trek.

The classes are impressive and well-organized – NIGR goes all out to get the best people who lecture on specialized areas of NARA holdings. Attendees are provided with a binder containing notes and outlines on the lectures, with bibliographies and references. Class members are expected to have some genuine experience in genealogy – half of those in the group were professionals, the other half long time dedicated researchers who brought a variety of backgrounds to the class of about forty. It’s not for beginners. Once you have completed the week, you are set to dive into the holdings of three of the premier facilities in DC. As part of the process we obtained readers’ cards at both NARA and LOC. (The security process is long and tedious at both places for exit and entry – not for the impatient.) I felt at the end that I finally understood what NARA has, does, and can offer to a researcher.

Jane Hufft at the DAR Library, Washington D.C.

I had never been to the DAR library, so the half day there was like a few minutes in a candy shop. There was a field trip to Archives II in Maryland – the behind-the-scenes tour of this new, beautiful facility that is the second largest federal building in the U.S. was breathtaking – we saw the modern, rolling, closed stacks and had a tour of the conservation floor, where we were face to face with Washington’s farewell address, yellowed and so readable in his clear handwriting, which is being conserved, and saw how five wallets from Confederate soldiers are being protected in a specially constructed hand-made box so that researchers can see them and access copies of what the wallets contained when they were found. It was a fabulous experience from start to finish.

Jane Hufft is the editor of the CGS News and serves on the board and the publications committee. Diving into such a demanding program comes naturally to Jane who has thirty-six years of experience in education as a teacher, project manager and administrator.

Next year’s National Institute on Genealogical Research will be held July 12-17, 2009.

Photograph courtesy of Lavinia Grace Schwarz.