Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Visit to Washington, DC. - Family, Friends, Learning & Laughter - Part 6

    We are finally to Wednesday of my week at the National Institute on Genealogical Studies (NIGR) and already up to part 6 of this series.  I didn't expect it to turn into this many posts, but I hope you are keeping up with it anyway because it was a great experience and I highly recommend it if you have the chance to go.
    When I first arrived at the Archives on that Wednesday morning I had a quick chat with our hosts letting them know about a wonderful opportunity that was coming my way later that day that would cause me to miss part of class.  My brother-in-law had been able to arrange a fairly unique tour of the dome of the US Capitol Building for my wife and me.  This isn't part of any normal tour and has to be arranged specifically through the office of a member of congress and fit their schedule since they or a member of their staff accompany you on the tour.  More about this later in this post.
    Then we had some free research time and I was able to put in some more record pull requests before heading to our first session by Angela McGhie, who would be giving us a class about the various resources that FamilySearch had for federal records (   I know that FamilySearch is regularly adding new sets of data as the microfilm digitization project, indexing and digital imaging moves forward.  It can, however, be hard to keep up will all the new things on the site, so this was great information about how many collections on the site are federal records of various categories including, military, immigration,  court, land, and census records.  Also included are other types of collections that might not be NARA records, but are related Civil War Records for Confederate Soldiers. 
   Angela also discussed the various indexing projects ( going on that involve federal records as well as discussing the wonderful information available at the FamilySearch Research Wiki ( where one can find "free family history research advice for the community, by the community".
  She also showed us the new Civil War Research Page ( that FamilySearch has created to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and act as a gateway to finding information and research resources for the Civil War.
    Next she covered the many free research courses available on the site (, many of which are related to various types of federal records.   I really enjoyed her presentation and was excited to meet her in person since I used the tips on her blog ( to prepare for attending the week at NIGR.
   I had to then leave to grab a quick lunch and head over to Capitol Hill with my wife.   We arrived at the congressman's office where my brother-in-law works to meet up with the staffer who would be accompanying us - along with another person and an intern - on the dome tour.  We then passed through the tunnels from the office building over to the Capitol, past the throngs of 'normal' tour participants, where we entered through a door and encountered this depiction of the dome.
We then proceeded to climb the stairs behind the dome picture and reached an area where we then were standing on what was originally the roof, where you can still see part of the original dome facade. 
We continued climbing until we reached the first balcony level where looking across the dome appeared like the first picture below. There our guide told us about the frieze and the various scenes and history behind it as well as some additional information about the dome and its architecture.  We then went back out and continued our climb as seen in the second picture below.
    We then reached the next balcony level where you get a very close look at the painting at the top of the dome (The Apotheosis of Washington). It has several parts to it that were explained by our guide and we took a break to take some pictures of us on that level and some as we looked down to see those who were taking the 'regular' tours of the Capitol. You can also see in the picture looking down the first balcony area above the frieze.

 But our journey wasn't yet over.  We then climbed another series of steps and came out a doorway, finding ourselves at the very top of the dome. This put us on the outside of the building where we encountered amazing 360 degree views of Washington, DC beginning with a view of the National Mall looking towards the Washington Monument.   As you can see there was also a thunderstorm rolling in and so we quickly took some pictures including one looking up above us at the columns surrounding the light that is lit when congress is in session and is directly below the Statue of Freedom at the very top of the US Capitol.
    Shortly after finishing our photos we realized that a couple of the ladies in the group had their hair starting to stand on end from the electricity in the air, so we decided it was time to head back down.
Here you get a sense of how steep the stairs were as we climbed back down and listened to the rain that started pouring down shortly after we got back inside.

See here for more information about the dome's architecture -

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Visit to Washington, DC. - Family, Friends, Learning & Laughter - Part 5

    Tuesday continues... with more classes in the afternoon where Marie Melchiori treated us to a couple of sessions on military records.  One was about basic military records at the Archives where we learned about the arrangement of the records by the time of service, i.e. Revolutionary War, Civil War, etc.  They may also be broken down further by the military branch and whether officers, enlisted or volunteer members of the military.  See the free Reference Information Paper at
    After learning the basics about the military we then dived into more detail on one of the most commonly used records in genealogy research - pension records. This covered the records that can be found in the Archives as well as which ones are making it online. 
    We also learned - as I had found out earlier in the day - that once the record makes it online as a digital version it can be difficult to be able to then see the originals.   I had tried to put in a 'pull request' for one of my wife's ancestors in the Civil War and was told that it had made it online on and therefore wouldn't be "pulled".   I had known that the were getting put up on Footnote, but it was good to know that any Civil War Pension files with an index number below a certain range could be found online.
See -
    Class was then let out a little early for an optional evening at the Daughters of the American Revolution Library (DAR - ) that would run from 5 to 8 pm.   This would be a great opportunity to not only see the library, but to also have it open exclusively for our group.

    It was a short walk over to the library which is located down the street from NARA towards the White House.  We then had the opportunity to hear from DAR Library Directory,  Eric G. Grundset, who gave us a brief rundown of the library, how things are organized and used and we were set free to explore.
    I had done some preparation at home for this visit by searching the DAR Genealogical Research Database.
See -
   This allowed me to find out ahead of time which ancestors were found in the digitized application files for membership in the DAR.  I had found an ancestor on my Father's side, John Coon, and one on my wife's side, Martin Harmon in the database.     
    This meant that at the library's computer media center I could look at digital versions of supporting documents and applications that contained these individuals.  You can download a pdf version of the applications from home for $10, but have no chance to see them before buying unless you are at the library.  The "supporting" documents are not part of the application, but can be purchased for 20 cents a page.  If you are at the library you can pick and choose which of these you want to print after having a chance to see them.  
    This can be important because with John Coon, for example, there were over 18 different applications.  Only one of them was a descendant of his son John who I come through, but it was good to look at the others to see what other information might have been included.
    An unexpected moment came when I had a little extra time and decided to see if anyone from my Bybee line might have been a Revolutionary War Veteran.  Three Bybee's came up.  Two of them were names that I knew, but haven't found to be related.  Then there was a John Bybee.   There are three John Bybees in a row in my pedigree - could it be one of them?   As I looked closer, I found that yes, this John Bybee was one of mine.  I couldn't have been more excited as I printed off many of the supporting documents for John as I dashed to the Metro station to head over and meet my brother-in-law for a ride home.
    If Tuesday sounds like fun, stay tuned for Wednesday...