Getting To Know Our Ancestors

There Can Be Clues Hiding In Those Papers

Researching a family tree can lead to a huge collection of papers and things. A second or closer look at these items can hold surprising and vital information regarding ancestors, details that add to a life story.

What to Look For

Official Documents: Drivers licenses, Social Security Cards, and military identification cards can hold vital information, like address and age, but there is also information like height, weight, hair color, and eye color. We may remember our grandfather as being old and frail and having grey hair. Imagine learning that the same grandfather stood six feet tall and had light brown hair while he served in the army.

Personal Documents: Insurance cards, credit cards, and receipts. These are things that we would find in our own wallet today. Finding those same things among an ancestor’s belongings can be a glimpse into their everyday life. Where did they shop, what did they buy, and how much did things cost at that time?

Address Books: One of my most used resources are old address books. They have been an invaluable tool when it comes to documenting photos. But, they can also be great for finding specific streets and house numbers for ancestors.

Calendars and Personal Planners: These can note birthdays and anniversaries. Also, it can note appointments and meetings, personal and employment related. How busy was and what did an ancestor do in a typical week?

Military Paperwork: There is never a shortage of documents when it comes to the military. Letters, telegrams, discharge papers, and certificates can all hold information that will tell an ancestor’s military story. These can also lead to information that will help in searching military records.

School memorabilia: Diplomas, graduation announcements, report cards, prom tickets, awards, and yearbooks can chronicle an ancestor’s academic years.

Dig a Little Deeper

Family papers and photos are a great place to start when it come to researching a family tree, as they are full of valuable genealogical material. The key to building on that information is to keep digging.

It is easiest if you focus on one part of a family or one specific family member at a time. Take a closer look at addresses, neighborhoods, schools and churches they attended, military service, places of employment.

Make use of local resources. State archives hold a wealth of information. Ancestor research can be refined by visiting a city historical society, which is an organization dedicated to collecting, organizing, and preserving historical information.

Online Searches

We are so lucky to live in a day and age where we can sit in the comfort of our own home and are able to have access to a growing number of record collections. Every day more and more archives are digitizing their collections and making them available on their websites. Not only does this make accessing these records more convenient, but it is making sure that they will be around for generations to come.

A quick Internet search can yield endless information. Searching family websites, social networks, and genealogy blogs may lead to finding information about an ancestor, as well as making family connections.