What happens to your genealogy search when you can no longer find your ancestors in the traditional genealogy records?
You have exhausted the census records, the will collections, the vital records and the land records? No family Bible exists. No one is left to tell the family stories.
If you research for long, you will come to this point.
This is the point where you take your genealogy research up a notch (or two!).
6 Out of the Box Genealogy Resources
- Letters/Postcards – Ask family members about old keepsake letters. Typically, you will need to ask. People don’t really think about offering these up. Letters are often found tucked in a family Bible, a favorite book, among family photographs or in the back of the unmentionables drawer! (But I didn’t mention it.)
- Baby Books – Baby books are not just for those cute baby pictures. Take a close look at the gift list or list of congratulations. Those listed are frequently family members! Make note of any name you find and determine the relationship (if any) to the child. Bonus: This is a great place to find female ancestors and potentially married names.
- Wedding keepsakes – Here, too, you are not just looking at the photographs of the happy couple. Look at invitations for bride, groom and parents’ full names. Who signed the guest list? Note you may find female relatives’ married names here. Just as with the baby book above, research every name listed to determine the relationship to the bride and groom. Gather those scraps of newspaper clippings. Note the details of the wedding including the wedding place, attendants and who performed the ceremony.
- Church directories – Church directories will often include a history of the church as well as photographs of the church members. You will need to check for these locally at the church and/or local historical societies. Local museums may also have these. Faith based universities may have these in their collections.
- Private collections – Searching in the private collections in the archives or other repository will stretch your research muscles! Private collections contain a variety of materials – way too many to begin to list here. Examples of a few include types include personal letters, tax records, and business letters. I highly recommend you talk with the repository staff when searching for materials in a private collection.
- Merchant records or ledgers – Store owners kept records and ledgers of their businesses. It is possible to find your ancestor listed among the IOUs or accounts payable/receivable for a merchant in their area. Merchant records help define a community and its residents in a time and place. State archives, university special collections and local museums are the first places to look for them.
Yes, I hear you saying, “But, Lisa, this all sounds so tedious and time consuming!” .
Sometimes, genealogy research can be tedious and time consuming, but being thorough is important to making accurate relationship determinations. No one wants to cut a branch off the family tree when that mistake could have been avoided. (Ahem.)
When traditional records have been exhausted or if they no longer exists, think outside the genealogy box. Consider what your ancestor may have kept and passed down to generations. Consider what unique records the community may have created and kept.
Your Action Item Today
- On a blank sheet of paper, write the ancestor’s name, location and time period you are researching. Brainstorm all the different types of “out of the box” records your ancestor could have potentially created. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes. Start! Do not overthink at this point. If an idea comes to mind write it down.
- Now you are ready to create your research plan.
Have you come across an interesting “out of the box” genealogy record? Share in the comments below!
Pin this post for future reference!