Genealogy Road Trip Tip 17: Historical societies and fraternal groups

Tip 17: Historical societies and fraternal groups. Part of “Genealogy Road Trip Tips: Take Your Loved Ones With You” — 30 posts in 30 days for NaBloPoMo 2016.

The Oneida County Historical Society in Utica, New York. One of my most enjoyable family history road trip visits was a spur-of-the moment stop at this historical society. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Historical societies at your Genealogy Road Trip destination are worth visiting to put your ancestors’ lives in context — particluarly if they are staffed by knowledgable local residents.

And if your ancestors belonged to any local fraternal organizations or their auxiliaries — such as the Masons, Oddfellows, Foresters and the like — their lodges would make good stopping off points, too.

You won’t necessarily find genealogical records — though you might at larger societies and organizations. But at the very least you should be able to confirm your ancestor’s membership, which will help you do further research when you are back home.

Here are a few tips on adding these to your Genealogy Road Trip list:

Identify local historical societies and fraternal orders. In the U.S., many counties and towns have historical societies of varying size. Some are housed in substantial buildings and have extensive collections. Others may be smaller and contain more limited collections of ephemera and artifacts. Do an online search to find the address, hours and contact information for these societies and for local fraternal groups before you go.

Call to make an appointment. Many historical societies have limited hours and some are open only by appointment. The same is true of fraternal organizations. So call or email before you go to give them some advance notice and to set up a time for your visit.

Have your ancestor’s details ready. The staff at historical societies and fraternal organizations will be better able to help you if you have your ancestor’s details ready. When did they live in town? Where did they work? What years did they belong to the fraternal group? Did they hold office in the organization? They may even ask your ancestor’s date of birth to help them trace a membership. Having facts like these ready will make it easier to locate any information they may have about your forebears.

Can’t prepare? Then just stop by. If don’t have time to prepare, then take a chance and just stop by the society or fraternal lodge when you get to your destination — you may be surprised by what you find.

One of my most enjoyable visits to a historical society happened by accident. I was meeting up with my oldest sister in Utica, Oneida County, New York for a genealogy road trip and had a few hours to kill. So I made a spur-of-the moment stop at the Oneida County Historical Society, since it would be closed by the time she arrived.

A staff member gave me a wonderful tour of their impressive facility and holdings — including original bound copies of Oneida County census returns. I told him I was researching my Charboneau surname.

“We have a Charboneau file,” he said, pulling open a huge drawer of family files. And there, in the folder, were two letters I had written to the society years before asking for help with my family history search — something tangible from me for future generations to find when they come calling!

I also discovered a clipping in their newspaper files containing a photo of what looked like one of my dad’s brothers on the job in a local factory.

In short, you never know what treasures you will unearth — from nuggets of local history to genealogical records. So be sure to include historical societies and fraternal groups on your list of places to visit.

Please stop back tomorrow for Tip 18: Friends, associates and neighbors.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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