Finding Old Directories

  • Google search for “countyname county directory.” Use name of the state if county name is common. You will get things besides directories.
  • GoogleBooks search for “countyname county directory.” Use name of the state if county name is common. Can also search for names. Not always able to download entire book.
  •–same search ideas as for GoogleBooks. Can download entire book as PDF or alternate formats.
  •–same search ideas as for GoogleBooks. Not always able to download entire book.
  • Library websites in the town and county in which they town was located may either have digital images of directories or links to sites that do have these images. Google searches for “townname public library” should help locate these libraries’ websites.
  • Ask the researchers with interest in the same county for suggestions. Facebook groups for genealogy in the county and state are a good place to start if other approaches are unsuccessful.

Check out Genealogy Tip of the Day book version for other tips and questions you should ask yourself about your research.

The Key, Intro, Explanation, Etc.

There is more to using reference materials than simply seeing if your item or person of interest is included. The publication’s preface or introduction may include additional material to help explain the reference you found to the person or item for which you were looking. There may be a list of abbreviations, an explanation of the book’s format, a summary of items used, etc. all of which are helpful in interpreting the item correctly.

Don’t just copy the page that includes that for which you are searching and quit. The front matter of these books matter if one hopes to interpret the information correctly.

Court (or other) Records in Neighboring Counties?

When you find quite a bit on a relative in a certain county for what appears to be the entire duration of their life, it can be tempting to think that neighboring counties do not need to be searched.

That can be a mistake.

Deed, court, and probate records were easily located on a person of interest in Bedford County, Virginia. I thought I was done with that portion of the research. It turns out that I was not. A search of court records in adjacent Amherst County turned up a court case for him there as well.

I was not done with the research. The deeds had not been fully analyzed and I did not know where in Bedford County the person lived. Their proximity to the county line could have meant that they lived in the neighboring county for part of their life or frequently conducted business with individuals from that neighboring county.

Neighboring counties should always be searched. This is particularly true when the person lived near the county line or you do not know where they lived within the county.

Just because you’ve “found a lot,” does not mean you will not find more.

An Ebay Item or Newspaper Reference to Generate Memories?

Not every family has a cache of mementos, ephemera, and other memorabilia that are a physical reminder of the past. There is also no doubt that such items can be a great way to jump start someone’s memories. A picture of the county courthouse, an old restaurant, the town square, etc. are reminders of times past that can help start a conversation about the “old times.” Pictures or items the person can hold can open the memory floodgates.

Ebay is one way to obtain such items–sometimes for a cheap price if you avoid the pricier items. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive. A post card picture, a matchbook from a restaurant, a cheap political button, etc. are all ways to help start the conversation.

Reading digital newspapers for the time period in question and making notes about local historical events, movies showing in the theatre, contemporary political candidates, etc. can be a great way to get a list of things to ask about.

Just be careful with using political candidates as a way to get a family member remembering. You might have difficulty getting them off that topic.

Practice First

The app to save pictures and information on family mementos (documents, pictures, furniture, jewelry, etc.) seemed like a great idea and was not too difficult to use. Stories of these items often do not get preserved and when a family member dies the stories of those items are often forgotten and the significance of the item is buried along with the owner.

But before you spend a great deal of time using anything on your phone or computer to organize your personal family history items–use it. Experiment with all the aspects of it. The biggest concern with all these apps or programs is the ability to get the information off the website or the app in a way that the information can be kept and used later.

Websites do not stay around forever. Apps get abandoned by their creator for one reason or another. The app I played with let me download my information and images (which was great), but it renamed every photograph I uploaded from my computer (with numbers instead of the names I had originally used) and all items were downloaded in one big set of items. The organizational structure I had created to sort the items was gone.

Before you invest any time in an “easy to use” app to help you with your family history, make certain you can get your information out of the app in an easy to use format. Practice with a few items and know what you will get when you download. Put the app through all its paces before you invest significant time with it or before you have a relative use it.

The time to find out “how it works” is not after you’ve created a database of 200 items.

Don’t Forget they Lived it

I discovered that an ancestor of mine died in 1837 when he had barely been married five years, leaving behind a wife and three children. This obviously caused a big change in the life of his wife and children. Did his widow move back to the nearby village where she was from? Did she continue to live in the village where she had her now late husband had moved to shortly after their marriage? Did she marry again and have more children?

Ancestral discoveries are made about real people who lived out the events in real time. We may focus on the record on paper but our ancestor was focused on how that event was going to impact their life.

Are You Familiar With What You Are Using?

When using a record set with which you are not familiar, think about how someone gets into the record, how the  information in the record is obtained, how the record is organized, what was the purpose of the original record, and how the original  record got from its original state to you.

If possible compare the record of interest to others in the same series of records. How is it the same? How is it different?

All if these issues get to how we use and analyze the information contained in the record.

Finally Finding a Signature

Locating a signature for John Michael Trautvetter was difficult. It’s not that he was poor and left few records. It’s just that the records he left behind did not contain his own handwriting. The record copies in the local courthouse of the deeds and mortgages he signed were made when the clerk copied everything in his own hand–including the original signatures. John left no will and his parents had no probate that might have contained a receipt with his signature on it. His marriage record, typical for the time and place, did not contain his signature either.

But in January of 1905 his seventeen-year old daughter wanted to get married and John signed to give her permission. It’s the only record extant that contains his actual signature.

Just one more reason to perform a comprehensive search of every record you can.

Records at Every Level?

For those with US ancestors it is important to ask yourself if you have used records at varying jurisdictional levels in your family history research. Records may have been created at the town/village level, county level, state level, and federal level.

Not all records created by all jurisdictions are still extant, but if you’re only using things from one jurisdiction, you may be missing out. And if you don’t know what jurisdiction created the records you are using, that’s something to find out as well.

Keep Your Analysis Separate

Genealogical documents present transcription challenges, especially the older they are. One wants to make it clear in any typed up rendering of a document what comes from that document and what comes from the researcher’s mind (or other sources). I have a simple approach that I use when transcribing any document. The transcription is clearly indicated as such and put between two markers in brackets indicating where the transcription begins and ends. The analysis or commentary is after the transcription.

[begin transcription]

transcribe document

[end transcription]



[end analysis]

That helps me to know what the document said and what I thought it said.