31 Days of “Out of the Box” Genealogy Tips – Vertical Files
July is completely focused on providing you with genealogy tips that are …..well,….”out of the box”.
Welcome to DAY 5 of the 31 Days of “Out of the Box” Genealogy Tips series! Need to start at the beginning of the series or catch up? Start here.
DAY 5 – Explore Those Vertical Files!
Have you explored those vertical files at your state archives or local library or archives?
You know the ones – those generic looking file cabinets often found in the corner. If you haven’t checked to see what they contain, you may be missing important clues in the search for your ancestors.
Just what is in that vertical file cabinet?
A vertical file cabinet contains folders usually organized alphabetically by location or surname. The filing system may vary from repository to repository, so check with the librarian or archivist for idiosyncrasies in their filing system.
What goes into a vertical file are those bits of papers and information that doesn’t really fit anywhere else in the archives, but still valuable enough to not be thrown away. Sounds a bit like a “catch-all” doesn’t it?
Examples of what can be found:
- Family Group Sheets or a previous genealogist’s notes and research
- Church histories
- Family organization newsletters
- Cemetery Lists
- Written family (and oral) histories
Not everything you need as a genealogy researcher is online!
It’s time to unplug your genealogy research and open that file drawer!
Tip: Check the digital collections for your state archives. Some, like North Carolina, are digitizing their vertical file contents and placing them online.
What drawer will you open?
Check out previous posts in the 31 Days of Out of the Box Genealogy Tips:
- Day 1 – Volunteer!
- Day 2 – Genealogy Wikis
- Day 3 – Cemetery Research
- Day 4 – Newspaper Society Pages
Pin for Future Reference!
Jody L Anderson
I was hired at my county library to be the new reference librarian after the previous one retired. I am excited to dig into and ORGANIZE my vertical files. I am trying to find a good way to know what is in each folder and to make an index to each file drawer. Any good suggestions as to where I can go to help me get it organized so people can know what I have?
Good question, Jody! I’m going to put this question to my archive friend (AKA The Archive Lady). I’m sure she’ll have some pointers. I know the vertical files I have used that seemed the easiest to use, used topical categories such as surnames, locations, church records, etc….
Jody, Melissa Barker (AKA The Archive Lady) sent me these suggestions to pass along in answer to your question:
“In an archives, Vertical Files are normally organized by Surname or Subject name. Then an index of the surnames and subjects is compiled for patrons to use.
Most archives do not compile an every document index to their vertical files but if you have the time to do such an index, that is great.
Here is a good article from the Society of American Archivists that is about government records but has some great stuff in there that might help: