The Archive Lady: Loose Records
Bobbie in Ontario, Canada asks: “I am planning a trip to the United States, Tennessee specifically, to do genealogy research this Summer. I have documented a specific ancestor’s life pretty well, but now I would like to add ‘meat to my ancestor’s bones.’ I heard you talk about ‘Loose Records’ on a recent podcast, can you tell me how these types of records would help me add to my ancestor’s timeline?”
Bobbie has asked a very good question and it sounds like she is doing her homework before she makes that genealogy trip to Tennessee this summer. Loose records are one of my favorite types of records to use with my own genealogy research and to process in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives. They can hold so much information about our ancestors that is not found in traditional bound records.
The “Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology” located on the Society of American Archivists website (https://www2.archivists.org/glossary) does not give a specific definition of “loose records,” but a search of the Society’s website yields several references to this terminology.
I did find a definition of “loose records” in a published advisory from the Tennessee State Library and Archives entitled Tennessee Archives Management Advisory dated 2005 (http://tsla.tnsosfiles.com/archives/tama/tama20microfilming.pdf). “Loose records are documents that are not in bound records books. They typically consist of documents such as individual handwritten wills, marriage records and bonds, estate packets, chancery court case files and circuit court case files.”
Some examples of loose records that Bobbie could possibly access during her research trip are:
- Loose Marriage Records and Bonds
- Loose Court Case Files
- Loose Probate Files
- Vertical Files
The availability of these loose records in archives will vary depending on the archives. The most important thing to remember is that they will be archived separately from the bound volumes and the researcher will most likely have to ask the archivist about these loose records.
What can be found in loose records?
- Loose Marriage Records and Bonds: These records could contain just about anything relating to the marriage process. Marriage bonds, permission to marry letters from parents, a copy of the marriage license and even blood test results.
- Loose Court Case Files: These records are a gold mine for genealogists researching their ancestors in the court system. Whether this is a criminal case or civil case, these loose court case files are a must for researchers. These files could contain just about anything that relates to the particular court case. Items such as affidavits, subpoenas, witness testimony, correspondence and so much more that is not found in the bound volumes.
- Loose Probate Files: These files are a result of an ancestor who has died and their estate has been probated through the court system. These files would contain all the working papers not found in the bound volumes that were used during the probate process. Documents such as inventory lists, affidavits, administrator reports, expense lists, heir contact information and much more.
- Vertical Files: These collections of records are the ultimate type of loose records. This is a collection of records, not related to each other, but filed by surname or subject name. The records are usually placed in file folders and then stored in filing cabinets in alphabetical order. The researcher could find family group sheets, family histories, photographs, newspaper clippings and other ephemera. Most of these items that are in vertical files are donated to the archives.
Loose records are a fantastic resource for the genealogist to help you fill in those gaps in your ancestor’s timeline. So, the next time you are working with an archives to locate records for your ancestors, don’t forget to ask about loose records.
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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