Genealogy researchers usually look online for the usual website for vital records, probate records, deeds and land records, census, immigration records, historical societies, church records, compiled genealogies, genealogical journals, military records, newspapers, county and town histories. But what are the unusual places to look? Here is a list of places I've found very helpful:
1. Blogs – If you are reading this you are either a regular blog reader, or you found this blog post via Google or some other search engine. There is an easier way to search blogs for surnames, lineages, locales, ethnicities, religions, technical help, societies, or any other search parameter. These two links will help you search all the genealogy blogs with ease:
Genealogy Blog Finder http://blogfinder.genealogue.com/ searches almost 1,800 genealogy blogs
GeneaBloggers http://www.geneabloggers.com/search-geneablogger-member-blogs/ this link searches over 3,000 member genealogy and family history related blogs
2. Poverty Records – Sometimes you have an ancestor who left no will, owned no land, had no occupation... perhaps it is time to look in the poverty records. Links to asylums, poor farms, workhouses, sanitariums and other institutions, warnings out, Social Security records can be found online through Google and other search engines. Some of these websites will have databases, but most will just have contact information. Be prepared to do some paperwork to release records from some state and country institutions, including court orders, due to privacy issues. If your ancestor shows up as a “pauper” in town records, it will be worth pursuing more information to find out the full story.
Poorhouse records by State http://www.poorhousestory.com/records.htm
Check the extensive list at Cyndi’s List http://www.cyndislist.com/poor/ for more links
3. Lineage Societies – Most lineage societies are not “secret” nor are their records. The DAR library http://www.dar.org/library in Washington, DC is a top destination for genealogists, but they also have some records online at this website. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has a website https://www.themayflowersociety.org/ but most of their available records are in the Mayflower Families in Progress books (available in libraries, but not online) or at their library in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Check Cyndi’s List for links to societies with online resources http://www.cyndislist.com/societies/lineage/ Be prepared to ask for records rather than finding extensive databases, since most of these organizations are fun by volunteers, not professional staff.
4. Facebook (believe it or not!) This link has two PDF files http://socialmediagenealogy.com/genealogy-on-facebook-list/ The first one “Genealogy on Facebook” by Katherine R. Wilson has over 120 pages with over 4,000 links to international English speaking groups on Facebook- including states, countries, surnames, adoptions, DNA, societies, clubs, etc. The second link by Gail Dever is a specifically Canadian list that includes French speaking groups and pages. UPDATE: Gail just told me the day that this posted, she will be updating the Facebook list this week.
What I like about Facebook Is that you can join in on the conversations, ask questions, and contribute answers. You can even start your own page or group! It’s nice to know that your queries about brickwall ancestors will be seen by hundreds of other genealogists, and that your questions about archives, websites and technical issues will be seen by hundreds of other people who have already experienced and solved the same technical issues you might be facing right now.
5. eBay- Did you know that you can search eBay with the surnames from your family tree, or try a search with your ancestor’s full name? You may find all sorts of items up for sale at eBay including bibles, compiled genealogy books, photographs, letters, engraved items like silverware or jewelry, postcards, and other items. You can also use location names to find local history books, photographs, postcards and ephemera from where your ancestors lived. If you don't find anything interesting, try setting up an eBay alert which will notify you by email if anything comes up for sale with the names from your family tree. There is even an eBay alert app for mobile devices. http://ebay.about.com/od/searchingeffectivel1/a/se_monitor.htm
6. Art Museums- Look for local and regional museums which may hold the furniture, samplers, clothing, folk art (weathervanes, figureheads, painted furniture), jewelry, or musical instruments of your ancestors. You can also search the museum records for donations, contributions, building plans and construction crews, boards of trustees and volunteer committees. If your ancestors didn’t own anything of value to give their local museum, perhaps they gave of their time to support it? If the museum doesn’t have a searchable website, look for a contact person (archivist, librarian) to email on the homepage.
7. Academic Archives – Contact the school or school district for alumni directories, school censuses, school histories, yearbooks, (check the local library or historical society if the school hasn’t its own library or archive) OR contact the college or university archives which may include alumni records as well as donated items from people in the region. Even if your ancestors did not attend the college, perhaps they donated (or family members donated) their personal or business papers and letters to a local college or university. Again, if the university doesn’t have a searchable website, look for a contact person (archivist, librarian) to email on the homepage or library page.
8. Religious Archives (not just individual churches or institutions, but regional or denomination wide archives such as The Congregational Library in Boston (see the database of digital collections at this link: http://www.congregationallibrary.org/digital-collections ), The Quaker Information Center http://www.quakerinfo.org/resources/genealogy , Diocesan Catholic Offices, religious newspapers and journals. If you don’t find online databases, you might at least find online contact information such as email, phone numbers, websites and even social media links on the web pages of the religious organizations.
9. Cemetery offices – The majority of cemeteries do not have offices, but the ones that do can hold treasures in their records. Often the office will be part of the municipal public works for town or city cemeteries, and private organizations might run their cemeteries “off campus”. Do the legwork on line to find out first who runs the cemetery and if they have a website or contact information. Some private cemeteries, such as the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts run an online database for burials http://mountauburn.org/map/ Some of these records include entire folders with obituaries, news clippings, genealogies, contact information on visitors to the family plot and a wealth of other valuable data.
10. Fraternal or Civic Organizations – Was your ancestor a Mason? A member of the Grange? Part of the Women’s auxiliary of the Elks or some other organization? Some of these societies had their own insurance companies, nursing homes, cemeteries, and even museums and archives. Via the internet you can search for your ancestor’s home lodge, or even contact the offices or archives for records and genealogical ephemera such as photographs, programs, certificates and insignia. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (members only) has a database of Massachusetts Masonic registration cards www.americanancestors. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts has an online catalog http://www.nationalheritagemuseum.org/ An internet search can help you pull up explanations of acronyms you might find on tombstones, insignia, jewelry or fraternal paperwork.
What other unusual records have you used to dig up family history? Leave a comment here and share your story!
The URL for this post is
Copyright ©2015, Heather Wilkinson Rojo