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Thursday, February 3, 2011

GA-Vault!

Georgia’s Virtual Vault, that is.  I’ve mentioned this web site from the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office numerous times, so I thought I’d go more in-depth with it this week.  There are a lot of resources there, right at your fingertips, and unlike a physical library or archives building, it’s open 24-7.  

First, what is it?  The website is produced by the Georgia Archives, which functions as an arm of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.  It is charged with preserving and maintaining the documentary history of the State of Georgia.  This includes official documents produced by the state and it’s constituent counties and cities as well as private sources of historic or cultural significance donated by the citizens of the State.  The Virtual Vault “provides virtual access to historic Georgia manuscripts, photographs, maps, and government records” (as stated on the website’s home page).

Since one of my primary goals in researching my family history is to be able to cite evidence to prove my ancestry, my first interest in the Virtual Vault was for the documents it provides access to.  If you look along the left side of the homepage (http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us/index.php) you’ll see the primary resources available.  This menu is also available from each section’s front page.

The section that lead me to the Virtual Vault was Georgia Death Certificates.  This was early on, before I realized how restricted the access to death certificates can be.  I think, based on what I’ve seen, that Georgia falls somewhere in between.  And of course, anything is better than nothing.  The death certificates here are mostly from the early days of statewide reporting.  Not all counties are represented, and not all years in those counties, but I’ve been lucky, finding several direct ancestors here.  The years covered are primarily 1919 to 1927, with a scattering of deaths from 1914 to 1918.  

There are several search fields at the bottom.  Choose a row and fill in one or both fields, then click the Search button on that row.  You can use the asterix as a wild card for one or more characters.  Typing in J*es will return Jones, James, Jaines, etc.  The question mark (?) does not appear to work as a wild card here.  The name row will return the certificate if that name appears anywhere on the indexed fields of the death certificate.  The “Title” of the death certificates means the name of the deceased.  You can type in just a county on either row and browse all the death certificates in the collection that were issued by that county, or you can restrict it to a particular year or name.  Last names are best for a title search, with or without wild cards; if you get too specific with first and last name you may miss a match.  If you know the certificate number you can also search on that.  There is an advanced search, but so far I’ve been able to pretty much use the provided basic search fields without resorting to the advanced ones.

There is also a second section called Georgia Non-Indexed Death Certificates, 1928-1930, covering of course 1928 to 1930.  There are fewer search choices because as the title of the section states, these death certificates are not indexed.  There is a list of the names of the deceased for each year that they call an index; otherwise you have to browse the entire set for each of the years.

Using the death certificates led me immediately to the section on marriage certificates, Marriage Records from Microfilm.  For the most part these were filmed by the LDS church from the 1930s to the 1950s, and they are the same images you would see by ordering a film from the Family History Library – and they’re free!  The quality varies widely, both of the originals and of the films and the digital conversion, though for the I’ve usually been pleased.  I think they actually did a bit of cleanup on the images during the digitization process based on the films I’ve seen at the Family History Center.  As I’ve mentioned before, not all the marriage books are represented here.  There are odd missing volumes that can be ordered your local FHC.  And, of course, there are the volumes that are simply missing.  Courthouse disasters, poor quality originals that apparently were never filmed, But again, I’ve gotten marriage license records that would otherwise have taken me years possibly to collect in a matter of months.

There are two search rows here.  One lets you type in a “Title”, though here it refers to the county name, so it actually duplicates the effect of using the dropdown list of counties in the second row.  The marriage books aren’t indexed.  This means there is no way to search them from a search screen.  So you have two choices: flip through every book which might contain the names you want, or find an index of the marriages you’re researching elsewhere.  The first option is certainly doable.  People have been manually perusing the marriage books or the FHL microfilms for generations now.  All but the earliest of the books have an handwritten index of grooms last names in the front that was created as the entries were made, though these indexes are not 100% reliable.   

Much more efficient is to try to find a published index of the county, or of the state, which will help you narrow your search.  There is 37,000 Early Georgia Marriages by Joseph Maddox and Mary Carter; Alvaretta Kenan Register, Frances T. Ingmire and Jeannette Holland Austin have all produced volumes of marriage indexes for both brides and grooms on many Georgia Counties.  These books are sometimes available through eBay or one of the used book sites if you want your own copy, or can be found in a public or university library.  Search for them on Google Books then use the “Find in a library” link to connect to WorldCat, or just search there first.   

There are marriage indexes built into the Search and Hints functions of Ancestry.com (caution, these indexes are definitely not complete, read the details of the marriage indexes).  There are also many lists produced on Rootsweb, Ancestry.com forums, GaGenWeb and other forum sites and mailing lists.  Often a Google search will turn these up; otherwise search within the forum or mailing list for “marriages” or for an individual’s name.  I’ve found several listed that way.

Sorry this was a little late because of the blizzard this week.   Next time I’ll continue discussing marriage books and talk a bit about the images you find in the Vault. 

Here’s your summary:
  • Georgia’s Virtual Vault is a digital document resource from the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.  In it you can find a number of documents that qualify as primary sources of information.
  • There is a compiled list of Georgia courthouse disasters available from a USGenNet page, among other places, Destruction of Georgia Courthouses.  This list is based on information available from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
  • Accurate official vital records are pretty much a 20th century invention in Georgia, and enforcement of the requirements was lax until the late 1920’s.  Nevertheless, with perseverance many documents that qualify as primary sources can be found.
  • The Family History Center, the Family History Library and Family Search, a closely related set of resources from LDS, are invaluable.  You should find your local Center, and get to know both the individual search and the library search.  The volunteers at your local Center will be glad to help you.
  • A little research can make your searches more productive.  Google, Google Books and WorldCat can all help you find printed resources; some of these may be available in digital form for free and others will be found at your local public or university library.  Don't neglect the forums and list serv mailing lists, either.

Later y’all,

*GeorgiaTim

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