06 September 2023

Using JSTOR for Genealogy

I am at the point in my research where I want to dig deeper into my ancestor's lives. My ancestors are more than a birth, marriage, and death date. I want to know what it was like in the time they were living, I want to know more about where they lived and worked, even more about the events they would have experienced.

How do I do this when my ancestors and their family members have passed away and no family stories are available? One way is to use JSTOR. JSTOR is a digital library of articles, books, and primary sources. JSTOR's website says, "JSTOR provides access to more than 12 million journal articlesbooksimages, and primary sources in 75 disciplines". JSTOR has some free access with a registered sign in. Open access journals and books are available, but for some items a subscription is needed.

Many schools and institutions have subscriptions and you can access it through them. Students and some alumni can access JSTOR through their high school, community college, or college if the institution has a subscription. Libraries have subscriptions as well. Check the library where you live to see if they do. Some state libraries will provide access to their residents. If all else fails, you can get an individual JPASS.

I was able to access JSTOR through a library. I searched surnames and didn't have a lot of success unless they were important in history. 

I had luck with occupations. For example, my great grandfather, David Watt was an engineer for Duluth, South Shore, Atlantic Railroad, and I was able to learn more about the company. My grandfather Harry Glover was a cost estimator for Chrysler at their Highland Park offices, and I learned more about the history of Highland Park. My search for more information about Point Betsie lighthouse keepers in 1898-1900 came back empty, but Michigan lighthouse keepers was successful. I found if the search term is too narrow it doesn't work. 

Searching social issues and religion was successful for me. My second great grandmother, Adeline Dyer Glover, was involved in the Women's Temperence movement. I was able to read about the movement, what the organization did, and background information of WCTU. My mother's family has deep roots in Church of the Brethren and I was able to gather some history about their religion. One article explained the connection to the Mennonite religion. Some family members were Mennonite and some Church of the Brethren. Another search that was successful was Salem Witch Trials.

Military topics were extensive. My second great grandfather, Samuel S. Glover, Jr. was in the Michigan Mechanics and Engineers unit during the Civil War. My fourth great grandfather, Alexander Glover, was a Private in Capt. Seth Murray's company, Col. Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge's (25th) regiment. I found articles about both their companies at JSTOR. Other topics searched for with success included Green Mountain Boys, Taking of Ticonderoga, and Michigan Camp and/or Fort Custer. 

Places is another effective way to use JSTOR. I searched for Shoreham, Vermont and over two thousand hits were returned. Now, many of those I couldn't use, but there were early images I enjoyed seeing. I have found more articles are United States related and foreign articles are harder to find. Using the state name and another search term like immigration was helpful. German Immigration was a successful too.

I could go on with other examples, but you get the idea from my searches. JSTOR is an interesting website, and I could spend hours reading articles on it. You can download articles and I have done that. I put them in a "to read" folder and read them when I have time. 

My searches above have been about searching on JSTOR, but the same could be said about Hathi Trust. Some search terms worked better with Hathi Trust than JSTOR.

A few tips for success.

1. Search narrowly, but not too narrow. If no articles are returned, widen your search terms. 

2. Keep a log or list of your search terms and if it was successful or not. I made a table in Microsoft Word and highlight green, if found, red, if not.

3. Download the article for further reference.

4. Don't expect to find a specific named ancestor but look for areas where your ancestor interacted with the community whether that is a religious or community group, a specific regiment in a war, or an occupational reference.

5. Use the information for stories about your ancestor or to add to the notes in your genealogy software program.

If you have used JSTOR for genealogy, leave a message about how you use it.

JSTOR image courtesy of Original: Gwillhickers Vector:  Lệ Xuân, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


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