Alternative Sources for Family History Research
When you can't locate clues to your family tree in the usual places, try these often missed and overlooked records and sources to further your family history search.
Almost everyone who has dipped a toe into the waters of family research have heard the phrase "genealogy begins at home." And we do - looking for birth certificates, newspaper clippings and other bits of family history. But have you also looked for diaries or journals? On the back of every old family photo? In your grandmother's jewelry box? On the high shelf in your aunt's closet? You haven't fully explored your family history until you've talked to every relative and looked in every drawer.
Don't assume that because your ancestor wasn't a criminal, you won't find anything in court records. Matters brought before the jurisdiction of a court can often involve dozens of litigants and defendants, many of whom may be related or nearby neighbors of your ancestor. Different than the proceedings of criminal court, civil court records include deed transactions, estate inventories, name changes, wills, custody papers and other useful information for genealogists.
3. Draft RecordsMost genealogists look for service records for their military ancestors, but did you know that there are also military records for people who never served? Draft registration records contain a wealth of information on millions of men between the ages of 16 and about 45. The WWI draft records are by far the biggest group of such records in the U.S., containing names, ages, and dates and place of birth for more than 24 million men. The National Archives also holds draft records for the Civil War.
Newspapers are often my first stop when looking for information on recently deceased individuals. A newspaper obituary may include a wealth of details on living and deceased relatives, dates, places and other items of interest. Newspapers contain much beyond obituaries, however, and with so many old newspapers available online, there is no excuse not to explore further. Everything from the gossip column to the local police blotter may provide interesting clues about your ancestors.
It is readily available online, it includes death details for over 75 million Americans, and it can be searched for free. The Social Security Death Index is a computerized index for the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration, with information on every individual whose death has been reported to the SSA since 1962. It is an excellent source of information for birth and death dates, and by requesting the original Social Security application you can obtain other useful clues.
6. Voter RecordsVoter application forms can be very useful to genealogists because they typically ask for a great deal of information, including proof of citizenship for voter registrations after 1906. Voter rolls, which document that a person voted in a given area during a given year, also serve as confirmation of your ancestor's location between decennial census years. Voter records may be kept for only a few years, or go back for more than 100 years, and are typically found at the county or city level.
Most genealogists have checked out the federal census schedules, especially the ones from 1850 and later. But have you ever looked at the nonpopulation census schedules? The U.S. Federal government has used many supplemental schedules to collect nonpopulation data, including information on farming, manufacturing, veterans and deaths. The Mortality Schedule, available for the 1850-1880 census is my favorite, providing details on people who died during the twelve months prior to the census.
If you can locate the funeral home that handled the burial of your ancestor, you may have uncovered a rich source of genealogical details. Funeral home records vary greatly by time period and location, but usually contain basic information such as where a person died, the manner of death, names of surviving relatives, and the place of burial. Some funeral homes collect further details, such as names of parents and siblings, occupation, military service, and even the deceased's insurance company.
Before homesteaders, soldiers, and other land patent recipients received their land, some government paperwork had to be done. Individuals obtaining land through military bounty land warrants, preemption entries, or the Homestead Act of 1862, had to file applications, giving proof about military service, residence on and improvements to the land, or proof of citizenship. These Land Entry Case Files
, available at the National Archives, can be fairly rich in genealogical details.
Someone may have already researched at least a portion of your family history, and their research may even have been published in a genealogical quarterly, journal or magazine at some time. That's why every genealogist should turn to the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), a subject index to more than 6,500 genealogy and local history publications created and maintained by the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.