Tips from the Pros: Sources Off the Beaten Track, from Loretto D. Szucs

What more can you learn about your ancestors after you’ve milked all the usual sources? Census records and information sources that provide us with landmark life events such as births, marriages and deaths will always be critical to learning more about family members and others who have in influenced our past. However, because of habit or because we don’t think beyond these commonly-used sources, we often overlook a wonderful array of “hidden sources.”

Sometimes it helps to tickle the imagination by going through the genealogy pages of the National Archives, or to look through lists posted on the websites of your favorite state archives, the RootsWeb free pages,, or under the database descriptions at

There are lesser-known record sources for almost every letter of the alphabet. Did you know that there are incredible stories about the people who lived along the shoreline of any navigable waterway of the United States, including lakes, rivers and canals in the Admiralty Court records that can be found in the regional offices of the National Archives?

“Bodies in Transit” is another unusual set of records. In an effort to stem the spread of communicable diseases, local governments in many states required that bodies arriving in their jurisdiction be registered. Some have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and can be found for a number of places in the U.S.

Think about where your ancestors or people of interest lived. What kinds of records would include them? Were they members of fraternal orders, were they included on tax lists, slave schedules, religious records, or alien registrations? Were they included in a necrology, a midwife’s record, or a medical record? Were they involved in an accident that led to a court case? Did they leave any kind of a paper trail in court records?

The possibilities are almost endless. Start a list and let the search begin. The New Year is a perfect time to jumpstart your research with sources that are a little “off the beaten track!”

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4 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Sources Off the Beaten Track, from Loretto D. Szucs

  1. I have been working for many years to connect children to parents in Pennsylvania-Chester County and Philadelphia. All of the obvious sources and then some, including many years of Philadelphia City Directories to establish potential siblings etc.

    I have used the LDS Library many times and the Chester County Historical Society records. I have not visited this facility. It is on my list for this year.

    In my serious scrounging this year in Salt Lake I located a list of school children whose parents could not afford to pay their school costs. A miracle! In 1815 I found father Thomas Naylor with son Benjamin and later in 1830s I found Edith with son Jacob. First actual connection. There are many pieces of circumstantial evidence but this was the real thing.

    Just a confirmation that sources are where you find them.

    Millie Starr

  2. What source did you use to find the school children list? I am also searching for parents of a PA ancestor who was probably in the Philadelphia or surrounding counties, 1820s, 1830s. Thanks

  3. Where would you go to look for Orphan records in the State of New York? Or mental health/insane asylym records, same state?
    I will definitely try your suggestion of archives. Thank you. L.L.

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