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Bits and Pieces Create a Larger Family Picture

Family genealogists are often unaware of the treasure trove of historical information that may be contained in the memorabilia of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.


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Family genealogists are often unaware of the treasure trove of historical information that may be contained in the memorabilia of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Any time a relative decides to close down a house for a move across country; for a move to an assisted living facility; for a sale or for a death; the family genealogist should try to contact that family in an effort to save any important family information.

What types of information may be found in a home? First of all, the most obvious memorabilia is family photographs. Many of these photographs may not identify the subjects. Try your best to contact your relatives to find out who these people are before all the ones who knew the subjects are gone. Places in the photographs are also important as they may lead to other sites to do research. It is important to remember that when you get photographs belonging to aunts, uncles, and cousins many of the subjects may be kin to them and not to you. Don't be led on a false chase because you did not realize that the person was not your blood relative.

Many documents exist which may help you with your genealogical research. Often your parents and grandparents will have copies of their own birth and marriage certificates as well as those of their parents. Having these copies will save you time in researching places of origin and save money for copying and notarizing. Many people also keep copies of their parents' death certificates. Once again, these documents may save you weeks and months of research. Burial records, such as location and prices of lots will also assist you in your search. Many areas of the country use memorial cards at funerals, often listing the place and date of burial and the relatives. These memorial cards will often give you clues to the next generation.

Certificates of baptism are often kept, especially for young children. These certificates will list the names, dates, and places, thus giving you another link to the past with a church or denomination. It is good to know an ancestor's denomination because that information often helps to narrow a search.

Postcards are a bit of memorabilia that are often overlooked by the genealogist. Postcards are often sent by close relatives, but they may also be sent by distant relatives. In the early part of the twentieth century, many immigrants corresponded with relatives in their homeland through postcards that were actually photographs of family members. If you are lucky enough to have these postcards, not only do you have the names of relatives, but you also have the pictures. The postmarks will also give you a clue as to where to look for information. Regular travel postcards were often exchanged between family members. The messages on these postcards may provide clues to relationships or to family home places.

Be glad if you have a relative who saves every scrap of newspaper about a family. Be doubly glad if they date these articles! Obituaries, funerals, weddings, births, and social news will often provide countless clues to searching for family members. Early obituaries in many local newspapers often did not carry a lot of family information, but if you read the social columns, it is amazing the relationships that may open up to you.

Books that belonged to your ancestors may contain inscriptions that refer to relatives or relationship or incidents in the lives of that particular ancestor. The books may also provide some insight into the thinking and likes and dislikes of your ancestor.

School records are often a fascinating glimpse into the lives of your ancestors. In terms of genealogical interest, they may lead the genealogist to another location. The listing of grades, attendance, and teacher's comments may also give the researcher a better picture about the life of an ancestor.

Remember that many people do not realize the importance of these old family documents. Some of them will not yield any new information, but some of them may assist in opening a door to another family line or location.

Be sure to ask your family members for the memorabilia. Offer to go through it for them and dispose of it as necessary. Many people are delighted for some help, and the rewards may be of utmost value.

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.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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