Saturday, February 14, 2009

Casting the Genealogical Net II: Home Sources

This is a follow up to my earlier posting, Casting the Genealogical Net found at

One of the places to look for your family history, which I did not mention earlier, is home sources. Now homes sources can be a hit or miss. For many of us who weren’t lucky enough to inherit the family Bible or documents, home sources can seem to be something that we should just forget. But I think that it’s important to evaluate anything and everything that may have been from or referred to a previous generation.

A good case in point is my grandmother's elementary school math book. It was given to me by my grandparents when I was a young teenager. My grandmother was born with one surname and than changed to a different surname after her parent’s divorce, and then appears to use the original surname as she gets older, prior to her marriage. I had heard that her mother had wanted to keep her away from her father and so may have changed her surname so he couldn't’t find them. Well, some evidence to that point can be found in the math book, where she printed her name on the inside cover using this alternate surname. This is a small clue in a math book, something you would not expect.

So, yes it would be nice if you have vital records, family Bibles or genealogical data at home. But if you do not, here are some other ideas for home sources to look for in your home, your parent’s home or maybe even a cousin’s.

List of Possible Home Sources
  • Scrapbooks (The Victorians loved to scrapbook and pasted in cards, newspaper articles, any info about their family and their neighbors)
  • Baby Books (Can provide information not only on the child but on the parents and grandparents, other family members and neighbors)
  • Guest Books (From weddings, baby showers, funerals, etc)
  • Photo Albums and Framed Photos (Always look on the back and inside the frame for information. In one photo frame I inherited, there was actually a picture behind the original picture-I wouldn't have found it if I hadn't taken the original picture out of the frame)
  • Journals/Diaries (You may not have these but maybe a relative does or it is in a Manuscript Collection)
  • Letters
  • Financial Records (Taxes, bills, receipts, bank statements, etc..)
  • Yearbooks (Look at what was written by others in the yearbook, as well as checking for information about your ancestor in the index and through each page)
  • Religious Memorabilia (Awards, books, certificates, etc. In one case in our family, a letter that was only 3 lines long , it looked more like a small note, was used by our ancestor when she "lettered into" a church)
  • Books (Look for any writing that may have been done on various pages or for items stuck into the book)
  • Announcements (For weddings, baptisms, baby's, graduations, etc.)
  • Greeting Cards (Christmas, birthday, graduation, anniversary, etc.)
  • Health Records
  • Newspaper Articles
  • Legal Papers
  • Military Papers
  • Immigration Papers
  • Professional and Business Licenses
  • School Records
  • Textiles (Quilts, needlework samplers-these may include names or the maker, their family or friends, dates and places)
  • Funeral Cards
These are just some ideas. Obviously, home sources can be different for you based on what your family kept and preserved.

A great home source is living family members. We often think of only interviewing the oldest members, which is important. But don't forget that younger members may have important information and stories to pass on. In some cases, it may be younger family member that hung out with the old people and listened to their stories. So starting conversations with all family members can help in determining who knows what or has access to information in their own home.


Greta Koehl said...

A wonderful and comprehensive list, and not only as a reminder as to what to look for in the home, but as a way of cataloging what we do have. When I am tempted to feel sorry for myself for not have inherited much in the way of memorabilia/family history materials, all I have to do is look at this list (I have at least something in most of the categories) to cheer myself up. Thanks!

Gena Philibert Ortega said...

I like your idea of cataloguing what we do have. I would take it one step further and say to catalogue what we have that refers to ourselves and our children.