Thursday, September 06, 2007

Little Known Sources for Genealogy Researchers to Consider

You just never know where you're going to find that one tidbit of information that will help you break through your brick wall. Sometimes it's a shot in the dark, taken with more hope than aim. Such was the case for me with one of my family lines, which I've blogged about previously. Sometimes you find a clue in an obscure database that no one's ever heard of. Sometimes the clue is in a book or even on a web site. You just never know where you're going to find that piece of information that will give you the big break through.

One thing that many people miss, and I'm talking newbies and veteran researchers alike, is information in unlikely or un-realized places. There are "standard" sources that come to mind for genealogy research... online surname databases, microfilms at the Family History Centers, GenWeb, Ancestry, ship manifests, newspaper obits, family photos or letters, etc. But there are also clues to be had in places not traditionally thought of a genealogy sources. Newbies don't know about them, veterans may not realize the type of information they contain.

The phrase "think outside the box" is a little tired these days I suppose. But in this case it's very apropos. Think about non-traditional resources when doing your genealogy research and you just may find that tidbit of information that puts it all together for you. One such source that comes to mind is church jubilee books or church bulletins. Another is school year books. Yet another is "award program" books from civic organizations. The great thing about these types of sources is that unlike commercially published items, these are written by common people about common people.

Commercial publishing is expensive and depends on wide distribution to be profitable. But local, limited circulation publications aren't intended to be money-makers so the folks that write for them can mention all sorts of obscure information that even a small town newspaper wouldn't touch. They can mention all the members of the Lion's Club who participated in the latest fundraiser (as acknowledgment and thanks) in the Lion's Club banquet program. Whereas a local newspaper would be more likely to focus on just the event coordinators, the event itself, and the outcome.

Mentioning someone in print, and sometimes with a photo, is a traditional way of saying thank you or honoring someone. When there are a lot of participants, the list of names can be long too. Usually, some folks are singled out and a bit more is written about them. You never know when it might be your ancestor who appears on that list of names. Think about it. Many of us have ancestors who never graduated from high school so they wouldn't show up on a list of recent grads in the local newspaper. But if they took part in a school play, they may be mentioned in the play's program which just may still be on file in the school library. One little reference such as, "Annie Kowalski and her 'cousin' Marysia Kowalski sang a duet", could be just the little bit of info you need to tie one family to another or explain how two families with the same last name ended up living on the same street.

Not everything "old" gets donated to libraries or historical societies. Many churches, schools, civic groups, etc. have copies of their old limited-run publications. Have you thought about checking into them as resources? One quick phone call or email may be all it takes to locate these sorts of items.


  1. Very good point, Jasia. And actually I'm not sure I'd put Family History Centers on the list of standard sources. Would you say that the average genealogist would use the microfilm there?


  2. Hmmm.Here's my take on who uses the Family History Center microfilms... whoever has to because they can't find the info they need anywhere else.

    Anyone who's research quickly (in just a couple generations) takes them off U.S. shores, has to rely heavily on the FHC microfilms. Very recently (this calendar year), Ancestry has started to have some databases from foreign countries (e.g. Canada, Germany, Sweden) but if your ancestors were from Poland, Russia, France, Spain, Italy, etc. the only ways to access vital records was either to write to the country's national archive office via snail mail (which takes months) or use the FHC microfilms. So I'd have to say that if the "average" researcher's ancestors came over in the great migration from the late 1800s till the late 1920s, then the average researcher would use the microfilm there. If on the other hand, they had long standing U.S. ancestors (like Randy, Miriam, and you ;-) who have access to a variety of records and histories from local sources then I'd say the average researcher probably wouldn't get around to the FHC microfilms.

    I was at the Family History Centers looking at microfilm fairly early on in my research. I'd been warned not to count on cooperation from parish priests in Poland to obtain vital records. I did some writing for information but I wasted their time and mine in doing so. I'd say 90% of the vital records I've obtained in the course of my research came from FHC microfilms. Just about everyone I know with Polish ancestors (or Italian, or Czech, etc.) uses them early on.

    I should write a blog post about this. There are definitely different primary "sources" for genealogy research depending on when one's ancestors immigrated and where they immigrated from.

    Thanks for bringing this up Janice!

  3. When I was at the Family History Center last night, there were three of us using microfilms there. All three of us were researching European records (and all three of us have Polish roots).