Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Guide to Researching South Carolina Ancestors is now finished

I finished the South Carolina page. I hope those of you with South Carolina roots will find it helpful. I've done no research in this state, so welcome advice on good sources. Whenever I look for material on the web, I'm struck by how difficult it can be to navigate sites. A number of reasons contribute to this: poor website design, ambiguous language, hurried readers such as myself, who don't take time to read what is there. It is easy to become confused or overlook important pages. I try to give important links within a site on my Guides pages, but it is too unwieldy to do so for everything.

A case in point is the South Carolina Department of Archives and History Digital Collections page, which is linked to from their main page, where it advertises "Archives' Documents and Images Online". This page specifies a number of projects: Confederate pension applications 1919-1938 , insurance file photographs 1935-1952, grand jury presentments 1783-1877, national register of historic places and a collection named "curiosities". Then mention is made of a current project -- the scanning of colonial plats.

At the top we are told that all of these collections can be searched in an index, and indeed, clicking on most of them takes you to the index page. A link to the index is also provided at the top.

Once on the index page, however, we are pleased to discover that in addition to the collections named on the preceding page, there are also files of criminal journals 1769-17776, legislative papers 1782-1866 and will transcripts 1782-1855 and a mysterious index to a mysterious "multiple record series 1675-1929." and plats for school land grants 1784-1868-- presumably not the colonial plats listed on the front page. Not listed as being included in this index are the grand jury presentments, the colonial plats or the curiosities.

Underneath the chart of included topics is a table of boxes. We can choose to click Help - - Copies - - SCHAH Hme -- Search Page -- Corporate Names -- Document Types -- Locations -- Topics -- Series List.

Well given a good database, any blue blooded genealogist is going to click the most attractive link: Search Page. Once on the search page, we can search all databases or select individual databases from a drop down list. Missing from the drop down are the grand jury presentments database, colonial plats and curiosities but when I search all databases for individuals named Smith, the first hit I get is one for what appears to be a colonial land grant -- is this the plats?

More clicking on the links at the bottom of the page gives me more -- and better -- information, but it is still confusing. By this time, I'm long past ready to give up. Rather than try to figure it all out, I elect to just do the search, on all databases, and collect what information I get with gratitude. I never do know exactly what I'm searching or if I'm missing something, but I hope that by cutting a wide swath, I'll get most, if not all, of what is offered.

I'm certainly not going to fault web page designers for not coming up with a perfectly clear navigation system, that anticipates my every whim and pops an answer up just when I need it, although I do make a plea for web designers to take time to test, edit and revise sites, so material is presented as clearly as possible. The point I take from all this is that it often takes a great deal of time and effort to understand the whole of what a website offers. If I want to benefit from the site, I must spend the time and make the effort.

And as do most sites, this site has a clearly marked link "CONTACT US". Whenever I've done so, I've always received prompt, courteous and knowledgeable answers to my question. I highly recommend adding this step to those above.

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