Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shows how you can go beyond basic genealogy research and document the every day lives of your ancestors!
Thomas in Florida asks: “I have been a genealogist for over 30 years and I have come to that point in my research where I want to know more than just the dates and places. I want to know about my ancestor’s daily life. I want to know what they did and what they experienced. Can you tell me how to do that and what kinds of record sources I should be looking for in an archive?”
Thomas has asked a question that I wish every genealogist would ask themselves “What did my ancestors do and experience on a daily basis?” All of us are collecting those dates and places to add to our family tree, but are we looking for those records and the information that can tell us what it was like for our particular ancestor during their time and place? We should be!
As genealogists we are always searching for the basic genealogy records for our ancestors: birth certificates, marriage records, death certificates, census records, etc. But have you given any thought to your ancestors’ daily lives? Or to the daily activities and the records that could have been produced? A local archive is a genealogist’s gold mine when it comes to finding records and ephemera about our ancestors’ daily lives and activities. Many times these types of records are not online and can only be accessed on site at the archive.
For instance, your ancestors shopped at the local grocery store. Maybe you’re curious about the prices of groceries or what was available. Local mercantile and store records can help you tell that story. You could even find store ledgers in the archive that may have your ancestor’s account listed by name with the items they purchased and the cost of each item.
Banking records are another great record set to delve into. Did your ancestor have a bank account or did they do their banking at the local bank? Banking records can help us when we are trying to piece together our ancestor’s financial matters. Banking ledgers are a great resource and can sometimes be found at local or state archives.
Entertainment! Your ancestors worked, hard but they also played when they got the chance. Maybe your ancestors went dancing, went to the local church social or maybe they saw the latest movie release. Don’t think of your ancestors as always putting in a hard day’s work, when they had the chance they may have gone to the local movie theatre and checked out the latest movie release!
These are just some of the types of records that can be found in archives . . . the possibilities are endless!
Also, don’t forget what you might have in your own records collections that can help to tell the story of your ancestor’s daily life. Transcribing that diary or reading those old letters could give you a real sense of the daily lives of your ancestors.
It is important that we collect those normal records that give us dates of when our ancestors lived and the milestones in their lives. But it is just as important to seek out records and ephemera that help to tell our ancestor’s full story. Finding records about all aspects of their daily lives will help us to understand our ancestors better and hopefully bring them to life!
Melissa Barker’s Legacy Quick Guides
It’s Not All Online: Researching in Libraries and Archives: Contains useful information including how to find an archive and prepare for a visit, a list of record types and tips on research strategy, tips on making records requests, and more.
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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: email@example.com
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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