Stumped? Have You Checked for These Records?”

by Paula Stuart-Warren

After a meal, my mother always corrected me and said that meat is “done” and that I was “finished” with my meal. Done? Finished? Completed? Exhausted all resources? Already published? Somebody else did that line? Can’t find anything else on them? Does one of these reflect your research? Have you truly exhausted all resources?       

While we may have limitations as far as access to some of the records we need to seek out in our family history, don’t shut your mind off yet. There are some less traveled avenues that may hold some clues to ancestral details and could place your ancestor in a specific locality at given time.

Use Others
Regular readers may remember that I have previously advocated using a professional genealogist or a knowledgeable fellow member of your local genealogical society as a reviewer of your research. If you have some seemingly unsolvable gaps they may be able to present you with some research paths to try. Their fresh eyes and thoughts may give you a nice list of things to delve into.

Keep an Open Mind
In many cases that bugaboo in our research path may be related to checking only the usual and generally easily accessible resources. Perhaps you might have checked just the wonderful online indexes, abstracts, and digitized images. What else might there be? Ah, clear your mind and get ready for a wealth of often overlooked resources. Some “beyond the usual” resources may include:

  • Voter records
  • Wolf bounties
  • Ear marks/brands
  • Poorhouses
  • Orphanages
  • Business records
  • Yearbooks
  • General store ledgers
  • Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)
  • Hereditary organizations
  • Old settlers clubs
  • Railroad accidents
  • Burial permits
  • Permits to transport corpses
  • Coroner records
  • Minutes of meetings
  • Delayed births
  • Guardianship records
  • Commitments to institutions
  • Prison/jail records
  • Century farm records

Learning More
In future columns I will tell you more about several of these resources, but in the meantime, here are a few places to learn more about many of these. These books and websites will also give you many more resources to ponder. Just look at the table of contents and the index for these books, and you will be hooked!

In Print
For some of us facing the long winter, reading these will help us ignore the cold and snow.

Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures, by Christine Rose

Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives. 3d ed. When you finish browsing that, try the third volume, The Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, which is also online at the U.S. National Archives website.

Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places, by Laura Szucs Pfeiffer

The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, 3rd. ed. (editors, Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking)

Other Resources

  • Institutes, seminars, and conferences. If you can attend one or more of these, look for courses/lectures that offer more on resources that are beyond the usual.
  • Check out for affordable and downloadable recordings of most lectures from the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies/New England Historic Genealogical Society Boston Conference. There were many lectures that had never been presented before at such a conference.
  • Peruse the catalogs at a state or county library or archives website for details and years of coverage for these and other records. Try these even if you don’t have ancestry in that area. Informational pages and individual record descriptions tell about the contents of records, including many of those listed above.
  • Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records
  • Library of Virginia
  • Minnesota Historical Society and State Archives
  • New York State Archives
  • Check out Ancestry, USGenWeb and other online sites for indexes and abstracts of an array of these records.

Your problem might be answered in one of these resources. At the least, you will greatly expand your knowledge and can impress your family and friends. (I am sure they will be willing to sit and listen to you . . . What? Your’s won’t either?)

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

About the Author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured all across the U.S. and coordinates the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is a contributor to several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments will reach her at Paula is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of e-mails received. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. She will not use your name but may use your place of residence (i.e. Davenport, IA).

Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
(Paula enjoys meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an Ancestry Weekly Journal and 24/7 Family History Circle reader.)


10 thoughts on “Stumped? Have You Checked for These Records?”

  1. Love the article about microfiche readers and films, luckily when I become “unwound”, I have had sympathetic help.
    I am a British subscriber, and you must have many of them, we do not seem to be represented often in your newsletters??

  2. Being a retired research scientist I have a strong desire to be complete in my facts. However, some persons may not want the “facts” published about their penitentiary records, or being the offspring of a different father than the mother’s husband. What wisdom to I follow in these cases?

  3. I enjoyed this articles very much. I was able to find information about a great aunt who died from a train/car collision in the 1940’s. I had perused local newspapers around the time I had been told she died, no one in the family knew the exact date, and came across an article on the train/car collison and fould my great aunts name and the three others who died from the accident and found more detail information about it. It was very informative and great family history. I have also found that going to my home town, where my family lived since the 1920’s, and visiting the county courthouse, I discovered that they kept school enumeration records there also. They went far back as 1914. I was able to find alot of information about family members this way too. I found this to be a very good additional resource area to get family info. I discovered that lots of my family lived in that area for a long time and other bits of information. So please list this as one of your “other resources to check on” list. It was very helpful to me.

  4. It looks like there are a lot of records I’ve missed. But please explain; what are ear marks/brands? also wolf bounties? Where would we look for these type records? Also general store records? where to look? In my experience most records of this type are stumbled on by accident as were the church minute book I found my ggrandmothers name listed.( It was in a museum) There doesn’t seem to be a clear method of finding such records. It would also be helpful to know what years certain records were produced; such as the Wolf bounties.

  5. I have just returned from a three week research trip to Pa. and visited 7 courthouses trying to locate records. I found most courthouses really don’t know wherem their tax records from 1800’s are located.And that was the obvious one! The other records drew only blank looks and totally non-compliance attitude. Historical Societies in each county sometimes had a greater variety but usually were closed on the day of my time frame visit! A few were immensely helpful but some were so secretive about their collection it was immpossible to do anything. I never found one counties voter records.

  6. The Arizona State Library, Archives and Public records website has birth and death records indexed and when you click on the name the certificate pops up and can be printed. What a great way to get access to the records. What a find. Sure wish more states did this.

  7. The Missouri State Archives is in the process of putting their deaths from 1910 (when they officially began to keep the records) to 1955. They have digitized them to 1928 now and will continue until they reach 1955. Though you can now search the index and if it’s not online yet you can send for the one you want for $1.00.
    They also have some earlier births and deaths. Plus various other records including military.

  8. Ms Heinz’z comment points out the importance of checking days and hours that various places are open before you go. Many historical societies also have web sites these days and you can contact them in advance to find out what is available in a particular town or county. A very nice woman in Lorain Co. OH checked to see if there were any old votor records available and where they were. As I remember she did eventually find them but they are not accessible. Saved me a trip.

  9. Cheers to your mom for teaching you the difference between “done” and “finished.” I wish more moms had done that!
    Thanks for all the new additions. What a nice gift.

  10. I too have recently uncovered a “lost” cousin on my mother’s side whom I knew in childhood. He is unfortunately serving prison time. At this point I’ve written of his accomplishments but ended it short of telling his downfall. In fifty years when we’re dead and gone, jail time etc. may draw a laugh, but right now, I’m not laughing and neither is he. For that reason, when I publish my autobiography which includes four generations back in both my parent’s families, this cousin’s life will be depicted truthfully up to his 69th year when he “ran amuck”. I’ll leave the rest of the story to those who come after me.

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