Hidden Treasure: Miscellaneous and Loose Papers, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

Old deeds.bmpSome of my favorite records are those labeled as “miscellaneous” or “loose.” Miscellaneous can mean the data in the back of a totally unrelated record book or on the back of a note or index card.

Do you have a relative who says “I really don’t have anything about Great-grandma Hazel’s ancestry?” Yet, in a collection of “loose” papers, they have a stack of family funeral cards that were kept by Hazel.
Miscellaneous records can be found in major repositories. The Family History Library Catalog includes some miscellaneous court and vital records. Some state and other archive online catalogs or in-house inventories show volumes of “Miscellaneous Records” for a town or county. A check of the catalog of the Missouri State Archives using only the word miscellaneous yields “Miscellaneous Court Records.” The subject tracings include “elections,” so I would check this out to see if any personal names are listed.

The North Carolina State Archives has informative descriptions of what may be found in county records it holds and miscellaneous records are frequently listed. One item listed is “Miscellaneous Court Records: Includes boxes of miscellaneous court records and dockets from both Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions and Superior Court.” It is possible that some miscellaneous records are not found in court indexes.

Loose Papers
Loose papers may refer to records that were kept on unattached pages or possibly a probate file (or part of a file) that is in a packet and not in a volume. Loose papers may be less likely to survive than a bound volume. When county records were turned over to an archive, the resulting finding aid often called a section of loose, possibly unrelated, or previously bound pages, simply “loose papers” or “miscellaneous.” Loose papers turn up when a courthouse or other government entity moves into a new building or transfers records to an archive.

Back at the Missouri State Archives site, I noted some “loose papers” that refer to “Missouri Militia, 1861-1865” and include orders, discharges, deaths, and desertions. Neither the state nor the counties were recording deaths at this time period.

A minister or justice of the peace faithfully turned in a piece of paper or a signed certificate with the details of an ancestor’s marriage. Are you sure the county clerk recorded that or did it end up in a pile of “loose papers?”

Back of the book
If you ever saw me in an archive or a courthouse, you would know I go to the back of the book first. No, not to check for an index, but to see if there are any gems on those pages. I have a couple pages I found in the back of another school related record book that list teacher salaries with information on when they taught and their educational background. A clerk may have run out of space in the proper volume and used the back of another volume to enter data. When viewing microfilm, check at the end of that volume for such neat items. A notation there may be about a relative.

Turn It Over
When taking my own genealogical notes by hand or printing out pages, I resist using the back side of the paper, index card, or other paper. I am afraid that later I will not remember to check that back side. A microfilm of a newspaper index might be helpful, but the camera operator may not have looked at the reverse side of the cards. I have a copy from a microfilmed newspaper index which has cards with extensive hand abstracted details from an obituary. Thankfully this camera operator did turn the card over and film the notation stating that the details were incorrect and that it was actually the obit for the brother, and it also states the person listed on the other side was still alive!

“I Don’t Know Anything.”
Most of us have had a relative tell us that they know nothing about their ancestry. In some cases it is true, but in others, the person doesn’t realize there are genealogical gems hidden in their brain. This same person may say they have no family history papers. Ah, but if you ask the right questions or show them the 1880 census page for the family, they suddenly remember hearing about Aunt Mabel and her children who moved to California. Or if you show them a few old photos, the pictures might spark a story that is filled with details. Soon the family loose papers and the miscellaneous “stuff” are opened for you. Many websites and publications offer oral history interview suggestions and ideas for getting the reticent relative to converse with you.

The Lesson?
What lesson can we learn from this? Turn over every piece of paper. Check state and federal archival catalogs and other finding aids for “loose” or miscellaneous” records. Ancestry.com has miscellaneous records within some databases. Use the online and microfilmed sources, but try to find the actual original records so you can check the back of the book, look at the back of the index card, and create effective ways to refresh a relative’s memory.

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A Minnesota resident, Paula Stuart-Warren, CG is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on the road. She coordinates the intermediate course, “American Records & Research,” at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including “Ancestry” Magazine.
Comments and additions to her columns will reach her at
[email protected] but she regrets that she is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of requests. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. Your name will not be used, but your place of residence might be listed.

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