Is your genealogy research stuck? Try these 6 uncommon or "out fo the genealogy box" resources! You'll be glad you did.
Genealogy Resources

Uncommon Genealogy Resources – 6 “Outside of the Genealogy Box” Resources!

Is your genealogy research stuck? What happens to your genealogy search when you can no longer find your ancestors in the traditional genealogy records?   Have you considered exploring uncommon genealogy resources?

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.  We all do. 🙂

But…..

This is the point where you take your genealogy research up a notch (or two!).

Explore These 6 Uncommon Genealogy Resources!

    1. 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.) Is your genealogy research stuck? Try these 6 uncommon or "out of the genealogy box" resources! You'll be glad you did.
    2. 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.
      Is your genealogy research stuck? Try these 6 uncommon or "out fo the genealogy box" resources! You'll be glad you did.
      Congratulations from Baby Book
    3. 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.Is your genealogy research stuck? Try these 6 uncommon or "out fo the genealogy box" resources! You'll be glad you did.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 6. Merchant records or ledgers – (This is one of the more uncommon genealogy resources researcher use.) 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.

Is your genealogy research stuck? Try these 6 uncommon or "out of the genealogy box" resources! You'll be glad you did.

Yes, I hear you saying, “But, Lisa, this all sounds so tedious and time consuming!” .

Well,…..

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.  Seek out those unusual genealogy records. Consider what your ancestor may have kept and passed down to generations.  Consider what unique records the community may have created and kept.

Tip – Check state and local archives digital collections for unique and unusual genealogy resources.  North Carolina Digital Collections is a great example of what can be found.

Your Action Item Today

  1. On a blank sheet of paper, write the ancestor’s name, location and time period you are researching. Brainstorm all the different types of uncommon genealogy resources and “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.
  2. 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!

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Is your genealogy research stuck? Try these 6 uncommon or "out fo the genealogy box" resources! You'll be glad you did.  #genealogy #ancestors #findyourancestors

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36 Comments

  • Linda Stufflebean

    Great suggestions, especially wedding and baby books. I inherited the wedding book of my great grand aunt and, in it, were signatures of both my great grandmother AND great great grandmother, plus those of several other collateral relatives.

    • Mary Welter

      Great ideas that really work. When checking for older items, remember to check ancestor’s location for antique, resale and pawn stores, libraries, history groups and photography studios (who often absorb material). Found a 150 year old family bible with a few phone calls to a small IL town–seems the local library had lots of donated bibles in storage. They checked and my friend won a family heirloom that traveled from VA to IL before the Civil War. Small town resale shops can be gold mines for information as well as items.

      • LisaL

        Mary, what an excellent idea! I had not thought about the resales shops. I’ll be checking those shops in my areas…..

  • Summer

    I am fortunate to have my parents family bibles. When I started working on “my” genealogy I looked through the bible and found a few things of interest. I also found some of the dates did not coincide with actual certified documents. But, they were close! When I reached a brick wall on an ancestor I thought I would go back to the bible and see if I could find anything….Lo & behold…….I found several letters, addresses, newspaper clippings that didn’t mean anything the first time I looked, but now, after a few years I know where these people fit in the family! I say a little prayer that I didn’t toss that info that meant nothing to me out!

    • LisaL

      Summer, that’s wonderful! I was just like you when I first started researching. I didn’t realize what I actually had. 🙂

  • Diane Davies

    My best “find” were not one, but two, address books from 2 different branches of my family. In both were the full names and birth dates of my grandparents siblings, sometimes death dates.
    You mentioned correspondence, like letters and postcards. Most people are probably only looking at the body of the correspondence for information. But the addresses and return addresses are just as, maybe more valuable for your research. You need to be able to place your ancestor in not just a time, but a place at that time. So I have kept a lot of my parent’s Christmas cards and whatever for the addresses as much as anything.

    • LisaL

      Address books – what great resources! You also bring up a great tip about the addresses and postmarks on correspondence. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mimi

      In addition to address books, I came across a calendar type small notebook belonging to my mother in law
      who did not much like talking about family ancestors. This little books called the “Sands of Time” was a calendar book where she noted relatives birthdays as well as when they were born and died. Lots of new names and useful leads.

      • LisaL

        What a great find! I hadn’t thought about it before, but a calendar type notebook acts almost like a personal journal. What an excellent source of genealogy information.

  • Charlette Smith

    These are some of the ways I found info when I first started, long before computers.
    That and writing letters to relatives and possible relitives that I had never met

  • Lisa Gorrell

    I have some autograph books. One helped me pinpoint when there was a move. Also great to have signatures, especially of women.

  • Elizabeth Whittaker

    Letters in my grandmother’s trunk from an uncle we didn’t even know about led me to 7 first cousins in Italy. We have met twice and enjoyed that Italian cuisine.

    • LisaL

      That’s fantastic and worthy of the genealogy dance! Meeting distant cousins is a dream of many researchers. (I’m strangely hungry for Italian food now. 🙂 )

  • Julie

    When my paternal Grandmother died I found my Great Grandmother’s funeral guestbook among Grandma;s keepsakes. While not a primary source it affirmed a lot of the family surnames and connections I had previously found. It also verified which family members cared enough to come and pay their respects.

  • Janice Harshbarger

    I found my ancestor’s names in a book that was kept by their county, “Wolf Scalp Bounties.” As a bonus, I noticed that many of the records were signed by a deputy clerk with an unusual name that was later given to my great granduncle. I always wondered where that name came from!

  • Carol Wilson

    Lisa,
    I have deemed useful information from Funeral Home “visitor” sign-in books, as well. I’m forever grateful that my Mother saved these mementos for all four of my grandparents and passed them down to me along with an amazing collection of photographs.

  • Ron Courtney

    Lisa, the information that you can receive from letters/ postcards can be quite helpful. I was fortunate enough to have a half-uncle who was a pack rat (my wife claims that it runs in my family- can’t imagine what gives her that idea!). When he died in 2000, his only surviving child told me that he would send me a key to his dad’s apartment in MS and that i could have anything of a genealogical nature that i could find. Unfortunately, that uncle didn’t have a filing system at all so i had go through years of kept junk mail to find the good stuff. Just as I thought i should throw out a box of such junk mail, I came across a bundle of old letters exchanged between my half-uncle and his father/my grandfather, most from the 1930s when the uncle was away in college. Within these letters which my grandfather would usually date (if not, I took the postmark date from the envelope), I would sometimes find information about a relative dying “last Thursday.” By using a date calculator, i was able to record or confirm someone’s date of death/birth/marriage depending on the note.

    These letters also gave me a lot of insight into my grandfather’s nature as he died 2 years before I was born. I had always heard that he was “all work and no play” and got the image of a rather cold person. My grandmother seldom spoke of him to me and I spent a LOT of time with her as a child. Sadly to me, but true to his reputation, almost without fail, he signed his letters to his son “As ever, J.F.C.,” not “Love, Dad.”

    I too, like another reader who commented, found the funeral papers from this grandfather’s funeral and saw many names that brought back memories of family members on both my dad and mom’s side as well as neighbors with whom i was familiar. Even though my mom grew up in Western Iowa, she was born near my dad and has many relatives who were also friends of his family’s. In fact, i learned a couple of years ago that the above half-uncle on my dad’s side is also my 2nd cousin, once removed on my mother’s side.

    If any of your readers know of a “pack rat” relative, be sure to ask if you can see his/her personal effects if his family is not interested in keeping them. When my dad & I searched through his half-brother’s apartment, I knew that Uncle Lawrence had the originals of several old documents that he had copied and sent to me. I hit the jackpot after two days of searching when i found an old 3-ring binder with the originals inside- the births, deaths and marriages pages from my great-grandmother’s Bible, original passes that my paternal great grandfather received in order to pass through the Federal Army lines during the Civil War (yes, he was a Union sympathizer in East TN, though he did not serve in the war), promissory notes from money borrowed by him or other family members (always with the bottom right corner torn off, which i determined was the way to prove that the debt was repaid), and various other documents dating back to as early as 1847! One was a note evidencing receipt by my great-grandmother of her share of her grandfather’s estate since her mother was deceased (other researchers did not even have this individual in their trees but have since added her). All in all, I found just over 200 such documents. Thank God my great-grandmother was also a pack rat! Had I not asked, all of those items would have been tossed when my cousin turned everything in the apartment over to the Salvation Army two weeks later.
    t
    Sorry for the length of this reply comment,Lisa, but I get excited all over again just reliving the experience of finding all those treasures more than 17 years ago. One question for you though- no one in my family, especially my 2 children, seems interested in retaining such items. What would be the most appropriate place to which I could someday donate these items so that they are still accessible to the future genealogists in my family?

    • LisaL

      Thank goodness for the “pack rats” in your family! You’ve really gotten to know your ancestors in ways you would not have just from the formal and traditional genealogy records.

      As to donating your records in the future, that seems to be a question many researchers ask. Check with your state archives (or the archives in the state where your ancestors resided) and see if they would be interested in items you have. Some archives have ongoing projects of digitizing Family Bibles, etc. Alternately, check with a local historical society, genealogical society or even a local history museum. Hope that helps!

      • Ron Courtney

        Thanks, Lisa! One thing that I realized afterwards that was not clear in my post was the comment about the promissory notes that I found. I noted that the bottom right corner of the note was always torn off. I learned from one or two that were carelessly torn off that the area removed contained the debtor’s signature. Thus, by the note holder tearing off the signature and returning it to the debtor, it served as the debtor’s paid receipt. Apparently they didn’t have a “PAID IN FULL” rubber stamo. Had you encountered such notes? This seemed to be common practice in East TN in the 19th century.

  • LindaHJ

    While not supplying a lot of information that I didn’t have, it is nice to have wedding & death notices from the Mobile, AL newspaper. I just went by the dates I had & looked for several days before & after turning up at least one small article on each person I searched. Some indicated the address or church where an event took place and some names. Since many to most older family papers & photographs were lost in he hurricane of 1906, and at that time not having much contact with that side of the family I was pleased to find what I did. Not sure that I will get back down there, but a ‘cousin’ has since written a book with information her mother started collecting many years ago.

    • LisaL

      Newspapers can be such a great resource as you have shown. Natural disasters have unfortunately claimed a lot of records over the years, so having newspaper articles – even small ones- is important. 🙂

  • Rita Lyons

    These are terrific resources and wonderful stories. Sadly, my mother was the youngest of ten children and I am the “youngest” (I’m 65) grandchild out of 23, so none of the family heirlooms, correspondences, documents or memorabilia filtered down to my mom, let alone to me, I live in a very large city where local lore and helpful librarians are all but nonexistent. However, I am not deterred! A cousin just gave me a couple of photograph-postcards of (probably) relatives from the early 20th century. The postmarks are from Vilnius (Lithuania) and the language is most likely Polish. I’ve tried for many years to locate my grandparents’ birthplaces, and now I have a place to start. After years of frustration, I am again excited to continue my genealogical journey.
    Thanks for sharing your remarkable sleuthing talents.

  • sue

    I was researching some of my family in a local cemetery with the caretaker. I asked him if a certain blank spot was empty since there was no headstone. He went back to the office and found my great-grandmother’s first baby who died at 6 months old from meningitis. No one had the money for a headstone. NO ONE in my family including my 87-year old mother who was raised by this woman knew this. Don’t think empty spaces in a cemetery plot of your family is empty.

  • sue

    I found a cousin by the census and a website trying to locate adoptions. My great aunt, Vera, died at 23. In the census for that year, a child, Frances, was named at the age of 3. Vera was living with her sister but no other later census years listed this young child. She was placed in an adoption home but I never knew which one. Finally posted to a website to see if I could locate her knowing she would be in her 80’s if she was still alive. I gave some of her history. A church person from Francis’ church, contacted me and said she thought this was the person I was looking for. As it turns out Francis had told this person her story. I was able to send Francis’ daughter pictures of our family with the notes that our family had no idea she existed at the time of her mother’s death. Sad. she was very elderly and with diminished capacity so I never met her. She passed away last year but I feel good in her knowing that she did have a family.

  • Sue Mersereau

    I was looking for a relative that I knew had been adopted. I got on a website that is for people looking for their parents & posted information about her. A lady from a church that this relative attends sent me an email and I found her! I also found a picture by going to the church where her funeral was and they sent me a picture of her and her husband from the yearly church member directory. First time I ever saw her face!!

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