Sports Memorabilia & Athletes In The Family Tree

Athletes in the family tree? Sports memorabilia can tell ancestors’ unique stories. Baseball cards and news articles can be genealogy records, too!

Sports are an enjoyable past time of many individuals both today and in the past. Whether playing a sport for fun, cheering on our favorite team or perhaps even enjoying a sport as a professional athlete, sports were a part of our ancestors’ lives.

Sports were important to our ancestors. Because of this, sports are important to us as genealogy researchers.

Hold on to your baseball hats, this is going to be fun! ⚾🏈🎾

Was your ancestor a professional sports player or athlete? Whether at the minor or major league level, sports capture our hearts.   For the genealogy researcher, sports provide opportunities to document more about our ancestors as well as opportunities to find images of our ancestors.  

Baseball cards, anyone?

Vintage baseball card with the title Genealogy + Sports Memorabilia
Pin for Future Reference! [Source: Library of Congress]

Meet Owen Elliott, Minor League Baseball Player 1935 – 1938

Owen Elliott was the son of Elie Elliott and Nora King. Born in 1913 in Mecklenburg County, VA, Owen played professional baseball from 1935-1938 for the Richmond Colts.

Much of what I have learned about Owen’s 3-year baseball career was found on the site Baseball Reference and in local Virginia newspapers. He never “made it big”, but that didn’t mean I could not find more about him.

For most of his short career, he was a pitcher for the Richmond Colts.  Known as Ace, Owen played for the College of William and Mary before moving up to the Richmond team in 1935.  The Richmond Colts were affiliated with the Philadelphia A’s and later the New York Giants.

So how does knowing all this help me as a genealogist?

Obviously, I was only able to find a brief accounting of Owen’s baseball career. Try as I might, I have not located a team photo with him in it….yet. I’m still on that quest.

Besides learning some fun and interesting information on an ancestor, where did I go from here? What should I include in my research plan? Surprisingly, I had quite a few options to expand my genealogy research into Owen Elliott.

Since I discovered he played for William and Mary College in Virginia, researching their archives, yearbooks and school newspapers is the natural first step.

Other options for further research to include in a search for athletes:

  • Regional Newspaper sports pages – Many teams played in leagues that covered multiple states. Don’t limit a newspaper search to too small of an area. Include newspapers in the opponent’s home town. Both the home team and the opponent’s home towns/cities will report the game.
  • Sports cards – Even players with short careers may have found their way onto a sports card.
  • Team programs – Team programs and other team memorabilia can end up at online auction sites such as ebay or in local and state museums.

More interesting (and out of the box) resources for your professional sports ancestor….

The examples I am sharing below focus primarily on baseball. If your ancestor played a different sport, look for similar type records and artifacts for that sport.

Card Catalog results of Ancestry.com search of Baseball record collections
Baseball Record Collections at Ancestry.com

If an athlete is found in the family tree, genealogy researchers do have options for finding further information including personal details such as age, birth date, parents and spouses.

One More Benefit to Your Genealogy Research

Finding a professional sports player in your family tree sparks the interest of those “non-genealogists” in your family! Do not underestimate the power of sports to spark a young family historian to be.

Man, woman, child smiling and reviewing family photo album for family history

Take me out to the ballpark…….

Wondering about other “out of the box” or uncommon genealogy resources? Check out more in How To Find and Research Unusual Genealogy Sources.

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