Where to Look for Genealogy Information - dummies

Where to Look for Genealogy Information

By April Leigh Helm, Matthew L. Helm

It might seems obvious, but you can strike it rich in closets, in basements, and under beds. Are you a pack rat? A hoarder of sorts? Someone who keeps every little scrap of paper that he or she touches? If you are, you may be well suited for genealogy.

In fact, if you’re lucky, you descended from a whole family of pack rats who saved all those scraps from the past in their attics or basements. You may be able to share in their treasures — digging to find things that can further your genealogical research.

For example, pay a visit to Grandma’s attic, and you may discover an old suitcase or cigar box full of documents such as report cards, wartime ration cards, and letters. Eureka for the genealogist! These items may contain information that you can use to reconstruct part of your ancestor’s past or to enhance it.

When you go through old family treasures, look for things that can serve as primary sources for facts that you want to verify. Here’s a list (although not an exhaustive one) of some specific things to look for:

  • Family Bibles

  • Property-related legal documents (such as mortgages, titles, and deeds)

  • Insurance policies

  • Wills

  • Family letters

  • Obituaries and newspaper articles

  • Diaries

  • Naturalization records

  • Baptismal certificates and other church records

  • Copies of vital records (such as birth, marriage, and death certificates, and divorce decrees)

  • Report cards and other administrative papers from school

  • Occupational or personnel records

  • Membership cards or identification cards with photos

These gems that you find buried around the house contain all sorts of information: names and vital statistics of ancestors, names and addresses of friends of the family and neighbors, military units, religious affiliations, medical conditions and names of doctors or hospitals, work histories, and so many other things that can add color to your family history as well as give you place names and time frames to guide you in your subsequent research.