Image by suju-foto via Pixabay https://pixabay.com/users/suju-foto-165106/
Genealogy influences the way we search websites. Name, date, and place. But as I have pointed out many times this month, understanding our family means going beyond a search for their name.
In genealogy, we hear of the importance of the FAN Club. This reminds us to look for the Friends, Associates, and Neighbors of an ancestor. The idea is that sometimes our ancestors are mentioned, written about, and documented through their relationship to others.
We should take this into consideration as we approach our research at the museum. The museum provides plenty of opportunities to understand an event, an activity, a place in time. In some cases, this may not be through actual research but rather through viewing exhibits or reading a museum publication. And while our ancestors may not be individually named, that doesn't mean what the museum has to offer isn't important to our research.
An exhibit about women and suffrage in California may never name my female ancestors but knowing the history of suffrage in California can help me better understand my great-great-grandmother who voted in those first elections open to women. Going to an exhibit about midwives can help you understand the midwife in your pioneer family. Studying an exhibit that details that big natural disaster can help you understand how your ancestor might have felt and what they faced.
We learn about our families as we explore others. Other people's families can help us better understand our own and help us write about our ancestor's experiences. Museums provide us with that opportunity.
Museums sponsor and host events. These events are put together by museum staff and volunteers but they also may include outside groups. Conferences, lectures, field trips, demonstrations, reenactments, and other types of events help us to better understand a historical time period, an event, or a person.
I once went to a presentation on needlework samplers given by a local museum-sponsored Civil War group. I was the only person not dressed in Civil War attire and besides the fascinating presentation, it was interesting to talk to other members of the audience and hear about their experience putting together their Civil War persona. The research they did into the clothing they wore, the person they depicted, the time period. It's an impressive amount of time, effort, and study that goes into making sure everything is as accurate as can be. The whole event was truly an experience and invited me to start asking questions and thinking about my 19th century family in a different way.
During the pandemic, I've attended museum lectures, historical cooking demonstrations, author presentations, and more. These were provided by museums in the state where I live but also in other states and include museums I didn't know anything about until I saw the event advertised on Facebook.
Museum events are an opportunity for us to learn more about our ancestor's time and place. Whether it's an author presenting her research via Zoom or going to an all-day event where reenactors give us a taste of that time period. It's important to seek these types of events out and think about how they can help us tell the story of our ancestors.
Mental Floss - 13 Secrets of Historical Reenactors
American Experience - The Reenactors
I think one of the most important characteristics a researcher can have is to be curious. Not nosy curious but endlessly curious about all kinds of things. Genealogy involves the pursuit of all kinds of knowledge. It's sociology, geography, psychology, history, and so much more.
I love to hear researchers talk about the seemingly strange esoteric things they are interested in because it shows how creative they can be in researching what they love. They are asking and answering all sorts of questions to better understand our ancestor's lives.
Whether you visit a museum for fun or for research, it can be a wonderful place to learn new things and discover new-to-you aspects of history.
Case in point. Italy.
I love Italy. I love the art. I love the history at every turn. I love the architecture. And who doesn't like the food?
Do I have family history roots in Italy? No. So going there has nothing to do with genealogy for me.
One of my favorite museums is in Florence, The Accademie Gallery. You might know it as the place where the statue of David resides.
If you visit, make sure you look at the backside of the statue as well.(c) 2019 Gena Philibert-Ortega
My favorite room in the Accademia is the Nineteenth Century room. I could spend an afternoon there studying the various statues.
According to the museum's guide,
The large Nineteenth Century Room was conceived and realized in order to provide the collection of plaster casts by Lorenzo Bartolini with a stable and definitive location. However the intention was also to offer the visitor tangible evidence of the 19th century academic origins of this Gallery, today mainly known for Michelangelo's David.
The room is filled with statues and busts. These works were commissioned by wealthy Italian and foreign visitors living in Florence. But there's important context in those works. It provides us a snapshot of life. It reminds me of how we use various publications to date fashion in photographs thus "dating" a photograph to a specific decade.
Most statues and busts reveal the 19th century aesthetic taste from head to toe, showing the typical hairstyle and fashion of the period. The decision to follow a specific style reveals the sensitivity and the prevalent ideology at the historical moment it reflects. In the first half of the 19th century fashion trends were set in France, featuring modest volume of hairstyle, and simple vertical lines which defined women’s tunics and gowns during the neoclassical and Empire period, faithfully depicted by Lorenzo Bartolini during his long brilliant career. 
These statues seemingly have no genealogical value but in reality, they provide important context regarding fashion and hairstyles of the early 19th century. Yes, I understand these were documenting the rich but it still provides context that we can use in our overall understanding.
There's a genealogical benefit to just visiting museums for the sake of visiting and learning. Not everything has to be a research trip. Genealogy and social history is everywhere.
Falletti, Franca. Accademia Gallery. The Official Guide. Italy: Giunti, 2015.
 "Gipsoteca Bartolini, a 19th Century Hall," Academia.org (https://www.accademia.org/explore-museum/halls/gipsoteca-bartolini/: accessed 28 March 2021).
There are museum finding aids and catalogs all over the Internet. Sometimes it's just a matter of knowing how to find them or the pure luck of stumbling upon one that holds the key to your research.
We discussed ArchiveGrid yesterday but there are other smaller regional catalogs that might also provide you what you need. These include (but are not limited to):
These online catalogs make it easier to find information about your female ancestor. But, once again, don't just search by her name and assume because there are no results that she isn't represented in a collection.
Here's an example. I went to the Mountain West Digital Library and searched for the keyword "quilt." Over 700 results were returned so I narrowed it down to a result from the Murray City (Utah) Museum.
So here's a great result, a group of women sitting in front of a quilt. The title states that it is the Murray Stake Relief Society Board circa 1954. So right away I know that these women are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they hold a leadership position in the church in the stake Relief Society (a woman's organization).
Ok so that's great. None of the women are named in the photo description so searching by name in the catalog would do you absolutely no good.
Now take a look at that quilt. That quilt is a Friendship Quilt (or also known as a Signature Quilt).
Copyright Murray City Corporation. Digitized copy available at https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=231097
What does that mean for genealogists? Names!
Look closely and you'll notice that the quilt has a ton of names (or because it's small it looks like a bunch of words). Obviously, not readable from this view. The description states that there are names on the back of the photo. My guess is that those are the names of the women pictured but maybe the names on the quilt are also documented or the quilt has been donated to a museum.
So museums have items that can tell us about our ancestor's lives and may even a mention by name. Why would you care if your female family member was on this quilt? The quilt and its history can tell you about her life. It gives you location in time, religion, and depending on the purpose of the quilt, that might also provide you details. It also speaks to her FAN Club.
Searching online catalogs to see what is out there for a female ancestor at the museum. Definitely!
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