When I first began researching my ancestors in Sussex County, NJ from the State of Florida where I have lived most of my life, I didn't think I would be able to find out very much without going to New Jersey periodically, something that really wasn't feasible at this time in my life. As much as I wanted to do this research, I had a kind of "defeatist attitude" at first.
But not being a person who is easily discouraged, I started doing the common sense things that one would do when looking for information on their ancestors. I began asking all my relatives questions, trying to find out what they knew. I wrote letters, made phone calls, and just generally made a pest of myself. But finally I had squeezed these resources dry. What next? Where do I go from here?
As luck would have it, my niece came across a notice in the newspaper announcing a meeting of the Indian River Genealogical Society. The meeting was at the Main Branch Library in Vero Beach. It's only 30 minutes from here. Why not! I decided to go. As it turned out, it was one of the best moves I'd made so far. I found all kinds of helpful people at the meeting as well as discovering what a wonderful genealogical library they had there. ( I go to this library every week now.) After the meeting, one of the ladies approached me and asked if I knew that there was a Family History Library in Ft. Pierce, the town that I lived in. I didn't know what a Family History Library was, let alone that there was one locally. This wonderful lady enlightened me and that's when I got involved in some "serious" research.
I was amazed to find that the Family History Center was branch library for the main LDS Library in Salt Lake City, and that through their loan program, I had access to just about everything they had in Salt Lake City. I found all kinds of films for Sussex County, biographies, vital records, probate records, histories, census, deeds, etc. You name it, they had it on film available to rent. I started with marriage records and cemetery records. Eventually I went to probate records (wills) and deeds. Don't think deeds are a waste of time. From this source I have discovered where several of my ancestors came from before locating in Sussex Co.
As time went on, I discovered a lot of other resources available to me at the FHC. These included:
The IGI (International Genealogical Index), a listing of over 100 million names identify persons using birth, christening or marriage records.
The Ancestral File, which consists of genealogies contributed to the LDS Church by other researchers since 1979.
The Social Security Death Index containing the names of millions of deceased people whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration. Finding an ancestor on this list gives you his date of birth, date of death, where his SS Card was issued, where the death benefit was sent and his social security number.
The Military Index lists individuals in the U. S. Military service who died or were declared dead in Korea or Vietnam (Southeast Asia) from 1950 to 1975. You can find birth and death dates, the place of residence at the time of enlistment, were the person died, his/her rank, service number and branch of service, his/her race, religious affiliation and marital status.
The Reference Collection on Microfiche which includes reference works most frequently used by Genealogical Library Patrons. It is arranged alphabetically by country and state.
The Family History Catalog contains listings for the holdings of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Searches can be made for microfilms/microfiche by locality, surname, author, subject or title.
The Family Register, a listing of names being researched, submitted by other researchers which include their name and address so that they can be contacted.
Also included are searches which amount to the LDS's own version of census indexes.
Each Center also sells basic genealogical supplies such as research outlines, pedigree charts and family group sheets. Hours vary for each Center, so it's a good idea to call first and find out their regular hours.
I now volunteer at our local Center one day a week and have for the past two years. Every time I go there I learn of yet another resource available.
Some advice for anyone going to a Family History Center for the first time.
First: Make sure all the information you have is organized on Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets. New researchers are often disappointed by their first visit when they aren't prepared.
Second: Don't expect to see everything available in one visit. It's too overwhelming and leads to further frustration.
Third: Allow the librarian to help you by letting him/her point you in the right direction for starters.
Lastly: Realize that genealogical research requires patience. If you lack that, you might want to consider another hobby.
Don't underestimate the resources available at your own public library. Many main branch libraries have census films among their holdings. The years they have may vary depending on the size of the library, but even if they don't have a vast collection, most are members of AGLL (American Genealogical Lending Library) and have access to films also through a loan program. In addition, be sure to check out their book collection. You might be surprised to see how much they have available.
Eventually, you may have to plan a trip to your area of research. And even if you don't "have to", you'll probably want to. This Spring I will be making my first visit back to Sussex County in 30 years. It will be so wonderful to see all the places I have learned so much about in the past four years. Of course I will be making a trip to the main branch of the Library in Frankford Twp., and I will visit the Historical Society on Main Street in Newton. I am double blessed because both my Mother and Father are going with me. I plan on attending church at the Yellow Frame Presbyterian Church in Frelinghuysen Township. My mother was baptized in this historic church 74 years ago. We will visit the Snook farm in Fredon where she grew up. I also plan a visit to the Beemer Church Cemetery in Beemerville where my dad and I will visit the graves of his ancestors. I will go to the house in Newton where I lived until I was four years old, knowing that it will not look the same as it does in my memory. And in some ways, the best of all, I will get to meet some of the friends I have developed through the Internet, the resource that has opened doors to millions of researchers. It's encouraging to know that there are so many nice folks still out there, and still willing to help each other out.
Finally, don't let the fact that you live thousands of miles away from Sussex County, NJ, discourage you from researching your ancestors. Take the first few steps. You'll be surprised at what you find. I have traced several of my lines to the immigrant ancestors dating as far back as the late 1600's. I haven't found any famous people (no infamous ones either), but each one has become a real person to me. I have learned of the hardships they faced just to survive, and now have a new appreciation and pride for where I came from. They are no longer names in some book. They are "my ancestors" and they are pretty famous to me.