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Introduction << Family Records <<

| Family Records | How to Find Family Records |
| Types of Family Records |

Family Records

 Video Clip
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Ancestors expert Louise LaCount discusses why family records are important.

Some people believe that genealogical research is conducted almost exclusively in archives, libraries and courthouses, but the reality is that one of the richest resources is often our own homes - or those of our relatives. Before venturing out on research trips, it is well worthwhile to look through scrapbooks and photo albums, closets and drawers, attics and basements to find any family records that contain genealogical information about your family.

old documents Some families record birth, marriage and death information in the family Bible. Often a family has saved marriage, birth or death certificates or announcements. Scrapbooks may contain a copy of an obituary or citizenship certificate. Perhaps your grandmother has a copy of her father's will in her desk drawer. Family pictures can be helpful, too. A wedding photograph might have the wedding date written on the back or the name of the church visible in the photo.

All of these family records are research time-savers, not to mention intriguing in their own right. And you are performing a great family service by seeking, obtaining, and preserving your family's heritage materials. By gathering, copying and creating a centralized collection of family information, you are making it easier for others - today and in future generations - to learn about your family. To learn more about preserving these precious family records, see the episode guide for Records at Risk.

How to Find Family Records

 Video Clip
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Ancestors expert Irene Johnson talks about the mistaken ideas of where to begin your research.

The first step in discovering family records is scouring your own home, but don't stop there. The next step is to contact relatives and ask them for genealogical details you need. In many families there is one person who seems to be the family historian, the one who everyone believes has the most information about the family's past. If your family has such a knowledgeable person, they should be your first stop.

old postcard Contact others, too - parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandparents, and other relatives - and ask them for the details you need to fill in the blanks on your pedigree chart and family group records. This can be done by visiting them in their homes, talking to them on the phone, or writing/e-mailing them.

For best results when contacting relatives, ask for specific details: "Aunt Rosa, I need to find out when and where your and Dad's parent's were born." "Grandpa, do you know the full names of your grandparents?" "John, do you remember in what town Mom and Dad were married?"

Likewise, when writing to a relative, be specific. Tell them what information you need. To make it easy, send them a pedigree or family group chart filled in with what you already know, but with spaces marked with a highlighter where you need information. Be sure to include a SASE and consider making a follow up phone call to encourage them to respond.

 Video Clip
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Ancestors experts Irene Johnson and Tony Burroughs talk about how every piece of information may contain a clue.

locket picture What kinds of records should you ask about? Find out if they have a family Bible, certificates, scrapbooks, letters, clipping, photos, diaries, deeds, military papers, school records, or any other items with family tidbits on them. For a useful check list of family records, download one of our helpful genealogy charts.

Ask them to send you copies of what you need. If you must borrow the items, make a list of them for you and the lender, and return them as soon as possible. If you find someone reluctant to part with information that you simply must have, try one of these tactics.

Finally, make it a practice to ask about any other relatives who might have information to share. This will become especially important as you get back to your grandparents' generation and before. With a bit of luck, this will lead you to distant cousins with valuable family information and perhaps a research partner!

Types of Family Records

Family records come in a variety of forms - diaries, photos, Bibles, and many others. Sometimes they are overlooked because we have such easy access to them that we take them for granted. In other cases, they may be tucked away in the attic of an older relative who has forgotten their existence. Regardless of their accessibility, family records are almost always worth the search. The nuggets contained in them can often save years of research or reveal information that no other records can.

The following represent just a small sample of the kinds of family records that are available. Not mentioned here are letters, certificates, clippings, and numerous other sources that should not be overlooked. A more complete listing is provided on our Home and Family Checklist available here.


The information contained on this page comes from a variety of sources, but relies heavily on The Everything Family Tree Book by William G. Hartley (Adams Media, 1998) and Ancestors: A Beginner's Guide to Family History & Genealogy by Jim & Terry Willard with Jane Wilson (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997).

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