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Outlines can guide family history sleuths

To guide family history researchers through the sometimes bewildering mazes of various records in the United States, the Church Family History Department has published a series of research outlines, announced David M. Mayfield, director of the Member Services Division.

Included in the series are outlines for the United States as a whole, the District of Columbia and for each state, except for New York and New Jersey, where records are comparatively vast and complex. Outlines for those states have not yet been completed, Mayfield explained."One of the things we're really excited about," said Annette Tanner, publications specialist at the Family History Library, "is the consistent format. Each outline discusses 26 major record types in alphabetical order with standard formatting, so no one has to be expert to use them."

The headings and their arrangement are consistent with the library catalog.

Discussed under separate headings in each outline are archives and libraries, Bible records, biographies, cemeteries, census, church records, court records, directories, emigration and immigration, gazetteers, genealogy (that is, information previously gathered by others), history, land and property, maps, military records, minorities, native races, naturalization and citizenship, newspapers, obituaries, periodicals, probate records, societies, taxation, town records and vital records.

Although the intent was to make the outlines as plain and easy to use as possible, they are not designed for the absolute beginner, Sister Tanner noted. The basic guide for those just starting out in family history is the Church's publication, Come Unto Christ Through Temple Ordinances and Covenants. After studying that book, one is ready for the research outlines.

The outline on the United States as a whole is 52 pages, considerably larger than the outlines on the individual states, which are typically 8-12 pages.

"We encourage people to look at the U.S. outline first and then the individual state outline," Sister Tanner explained. "It contains general information that is not duplicated in the other outlines."

A helpful feature in the U.S. outline is the records selection table on page 5. It contains three columns. The first column has the heading "If You Need" and lists 24 items such as age, birth date, immigration date and physical description. For a given item, the researcher looks in the second column, with the heading "Look First In." The third column is headed "Then Search."

For example, if one needed information on an ancestor's occupation, he is directed by the table to look first in census, directories, emigration and immigration records. If not successful, he is then directed to search newspapers and court records.

Sister Tanner said copies of all the research outlines have been sent to each of the family history centers in the United States, where the staffs, totaling about 16,000 volunteers, can use them to help patrons.

"Our desire has been to export the expertise of the main Family History Library to the family history centers throughout the country," Mayfield said. "People who use the main library here in Salt Lake City are at an advantage because they have at their disposal staff members with expertise in various states, countries and ethnic groups, and people come here for that reason. We recognize, though, that there are twice as many people using the family history centers, in the aggregate, as the main library, yet they are all staffed by volunteers who may or may not have had previous experience. We want to make these staff members feel comfortable and capable of handling the requests that they get."

The outlines are available to anyone who requests them. The price is 75 cents for the U.S. outline and 25 cents for each individual state outline. The entire set of outlines costs $12.50. The outlines may be duplicated if permission is obtained from the library. Permission will be generally given for legitimate, non-profit uses such as seminars, Mayfield said.