Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Finding Your Ancestors in Private Sources


To some people, this pile of old suitcases and trunks would be a nightmare. To a seasoned genealogist, this is a dream come true. I don't think we talk enough about relying on the records that may be hiding in places like this one. Over the years, I have accumulated tens of thousands of valuable records merely by asking and being willing to take all the "junk" out of the basement or attic. Even if we are so fortunate to find a treasure trove like the one above, we often throw away some of the most valuable records simply because they don't have a huge stamp in red on them that says "genealogy." 

Here are some of the types of documents that can contain valuable genealogical information but are not necessarily commonly identified as genealogical records. 

  • Automobile records
  • Fire insurance records
  • Health records
  • Live and Casualty Insurance Records
  • Marine Records
  • Deeds and Title documents
  • Some kinds of Utility Bills and Records
  • Ledgers
  • Letters and Diaries
Many of us at some time in our lives, will have a relative die and we will be the person asked to go through their belongings. Over the years, I have heard a number of stories of valuable records being saved at the last minute from the dumpster. 

You may well ask why insurance or utility bills are valuable documents. The answer is in three words: names, dates, and places. If you are the type of genealogist who fills in the blanks in a family tree and then checks that entry off as complete, then there is little that I can say that will convince you that these documents are valuable. Likewise, if you look at old documents as clutter, you probably have no interest in learning about the benefits of going through a pile like the one above. But if you view your family history as history, you will immediately recognize that this pile has the potential of providing valuable information. 

Let me give one example. You find a ledger for your relative's business with entries showing sales to the surrounding community. This ledger becomes a list of names of people who could provide additional information about your ancestor. I have seen collections of documents that contained enough information to reconstruct an entire community. 

Let's all start thinking about the value of the information in this category of records. Now, if you really don't want to store all that paper, at least take the time to digitize all the records and work through them digitally. But make sure you back up your files and share them online when that is available. 

No comments:

Post a Comment