Unusual Sources - #52 Ancestors

For this weeks' topic, I could not think of any unusual sources that I had come across during my research of my ancestors. Instead of sharing a story about one of my ancestors I thought I would share some ideas of sources that some researchers may not think to look at.


I am a volunteer and a trustee on the board for a local historical society and museum. The building is within an old church that was given to the society a few years back. The past few years I have been spent time going through items that have been gifted to the society over the years. I have come across some items that I would have never thought of looking for when searching for information on my ancestors without this experience.


Several framed photos have been donated to our society of people from the 1800s. Many times these photos will be listed as unknown, but within the frame can contain information about who the person actually is. Even frames photos of people that are known can contain information. Some photos that we were able to carefully open contained information about the parents of the person in the photo. We even came across a maiden name that was written inside a couple's wedding photo. Those frames that we have been able to be carefully opened have gifted the society with information that we can share with researchers that may be researching that ancestor. Asking someone who shows you a photo of your ancestors if they knew if any information was contained within the frame would not do any harm. The most that could happen is the person in possession of the framed photo could say they do not want it opened or they may have already looked and is able to share their findings with you.


Journals are another item that we seem to have acquired many of. Specifically from the early 1900s and late 1800s. It is definitely time-consuming going through journals and compiling an index of people named within the journal, but I feel that it is information that could help researchers learn a little more about their ancestors. The thing about journals though is that they can end up almost anywhere. Journals that had been passed down to a family member could have moved which would lead the journals to end up in another town, state, or country. Do not ever expect that the only place to locate information about an ancestor in the towns they lived in. Asking historical societies and museums if they have journals in their possession could prove to be beneficial if your ancestor or someone they knew wrote journals. Potential neighbors and classmates could have even written about your ancestor in their journals.


The last thing I would recommend checking into is handwritten letters. This past summer I had to spend time reading a collection of a young girl's letters to a cousin. She had been sick and spend a lot of time on the porch per the doctor's recommendation, where she would write her letters. She would include tidbits of information about neighbors that stopped by and what she saw. The letters spanned only a few years because she ended up passing away. While I was indexing the letters I was able to index people mentioned in her letters. Another collection of letters I went through were letters sent between two distant cousins who were working on figuring out their family history in the mid-1900s. The information passed between the two would allow for a researcher to gain clues to some of their family history. Letters are definitely becoming a thing of the past, but the ones that do exist can have valuable information.


Next time you go to a museum, repository, or even meet up with a distant cousin who has information about your common ancestor be sure to ask them about a framed photo they show you, journals, and letters that may exist.


Until next time, take care.

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