You are here

Interview with Michelle Roos Goodrum, Author of Digging For Ancestors

Michelle Roos Goodrum

[Editor’s Note: Michelle Roos Goodrum is the author of the new book Digging For Ancestors available now via The In-Depth Genealogist. Here is our recent interview with Michelle about her book and why using land records is an important part of the genealogical research process.]

How did the concept for your book Digging For Ancestors come about? What was your motivation for publishing the book?

Really it was The In-Depth Genealogist leadership team who came up with the basic concept and it morphed into its present format after some brainstorming. My motivation is to get the word out that researchers should be using land records. So often I hear from people that they have been researching for years but really haven’t used land records. I also hear comments that they have looked their ancestors up on the BLM website but haven’t followed up by ordering the land entry case file from NARA. They are missing out and I want to get people excited about using this record group.

How long have you been doing genealogy and how did you get started? In your research, were you finding so many land records, that you just developed an affinity for finding them and wanted to share strategies with other genealogists?

I like to say I have officially been doing genealogy for 20 years but the seed was planted when my 7th grade social studies class had to put together a family tree. All of my ancestors were from different places and that seems rather exotic to me. Then shortly after my husband I married, one of his cousins shared her research with me. Half of his ancestors pretty much stayed put in the same place for many decades, the other half were all recent immigrants. It wasn’t until about 1994 that I actually started researching when I went to a meeting of our local family history society.

Early on in my research, my parents both told me that their grandfathers had homesteads. I thought it was fascinating and found out how to order their land entry case files. When I found one of the patents in the family papers I was really hooked on land records.

Are land records more difficult to research than other record sets? What is different about land records? And do land records vary by state or even county here in the United States?

Land records definitely vary by state and county. In the U.S., two systems are used to describe pieces of property (metes and bounds and the rectangular survey system) so you may need to learn both. Historical land records may be found in a variety of places: the county auditor/recorder or other local authority, state archives, the National Archives and Records Administration and, possibly even a foreign country. So you need to know something about the history of the locality to navigate both property descriptions and locating records.

What’s different about land records also makes them more of a challenge. Today we like to go to an online index and look up our people. Finding an ancestor in the U.S. Census which is fully indexed and available from a variety of sources is one example. Most land records and their indexes are not available online. You have to determine what repository holds the records and then try to get a copy. However, more and more are becoming available online through, the local authority holding the records, and state and local archives.

Every record group we use as genealogists has its idiosyncrasies and land records are no different. What’s important is being willing to learn how and why a certain type of record was created and stored and then how to access them. We have to learn a little history and think like the people of the time who were using the records. This is true for any record group used by genealogists, not just land records.

Tell us about one little-known or underutilized land-related record set and why genealogists should be using it?

One underutilized land-related record group is the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office website at which deals with initial transfer of land from the U.S. government to individuals in federal land states. You can search for your ancestor’s property or properties, locate it on a map with their mapping feature, obtain the information necessary to order the land entry case file from the National Archives and Records Administration, look up other original property owners in the area and much more. It’s a good and easy way to get started with researching your ancestors’ land records in the federal land states.

How long did it take you to put Digging for Ancestors together and what was the process? Is self-publishing something you would recommend to other genealogists? Any tips?

It took about a year total. We pulled blog posts and Timeless Territories articles from The In-Depth Genealogist, reviewed my personal blog The Turning of Generations for relevant postings and decided on an order with a logical flow. That was the easy part. Next came the months of formatting, proofreading, additional research and more proofreading.

Self-publishing is perfect for genealogists because we don’t have to try to “sell” a publisher on our product. Let’s face it. Most of us are not writing best sellers but we still have worthwhile information and stories. Self-publishing is perfect for that. Plus with print on demand, you don’t have to invest in having a specific number of copies printed.

As far as tips: however long you think it will take to produce your book, give yourself a lot more time. Not only is writing time consuming, but so are the technical issues related to putting the product together and proofreading.

What’s next for Michelle Roos Goodrum? Any other books in the work or other projects?

It’s difficult to say what’s next because sometimes the best opportunities are the ones that pop up unexpectedly! Right now I’m wrapping up a case study for publication in 2014. I’m looking forward to the Professional Management Conference and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in January and then RootsTech in February. And yes, there are other publications on the drawing board.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee