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Uncatalogued Correspondence and Notes Can Yield Great Clues for Research

When searching for information on your ancestors, do not discount the local library or historical society's uncatalogued correspondence and research notes. They can yield great clues for furthering your research goals. Delving into the records in my local library has yielded a treasure trove of undocumented stories of the residents of the town and provenance of their belongings, many of which are now part of the library's collections.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Christine Sweet-Hart
Word Count: 562 (approx.)
Labels: Library 
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When searching for information on your ancestors, do not discount the local library or historical society's uncatalogued correspondence and research notes. They can yield great clues for furthering your research goals. Delving into the records in my local library has yielded a treasure trove of undocumented stories of the residents of the town and provenance of their belongings, many of which are now part of the library's collections.

In a set of letters written by a prominent resident of the town, I discovered details about the death of his son and his allusions to why he was no longer living in a town that he professed to love so much. These letters gave a portrayal of a man at the end of his life reminiscing about times that had gone before and gave great detail about historical events that were great clues for further research.

Included in the file with the letters were many photographs of his collection of paintings, many of which are now hanging in the library. The letters detailed who the subject of the painting was, who painted it, why, and how he ended up with it. The provenance that the letters added to the artwork in the library added another layer of depth to the already beautiful items.

In addition to giving provenance to the paintings, the letters indicated that many of the items in his collections were given to another organization. Useful information if you are tracking down where the possessions of your ancestors ended up after their death.

In a separate folder was found a newspaper clipping that answered the questions raised by the correspondence regarding why he no longer lived in town. It seems that the good doctor was annoyed by the sound of the milk wagon early each morning in front of his house, so he grabbed a gun and after a brief quarrel with the milkman, threatened to shoot him. The milkman filed charges.

Another uncatalogued file of genealogical notes by a prominent researcher in town gave interesting bits of information such as the name of the first milkman in town (not the same one as in the above story), the history of many of the houses in the area including when they were built, by whom, who the first owner was, and subsequent owners up until the research by this individual stopped.

Oral histories from the 1800s were recorded including a story of how the town was able to have their quota of Civil War soldiers filled with help of the local tavern owner! Another anecdote detailed a history of a home that was the meeting for Revolutionary War patriots.

Correspondence files from the local church, also held at the library, detailed an embezzlement lawsuit from the early 1800s filed against one of its members including testimony in the form of letters to the Reverend of the church from the defendant insisting on his innocence.

When researching in the area that your ancestors once lived ask the librarian or historical society about anything they may have in their uncatalogued collections. You never know what gems you might find. It takes some digging and perseverance to go through the files, often times they are little more than bits and pieces of paper thrown together in a file, but if you have the time and inclination to go through them, the rewards can be great.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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