Find Your Ancestor

About Our Freedom is dedicated to providing resources and assistance to help you document your ancestor prior to 1876. This includes the following eras: Reconstruction, Emancipation, Civil War, and Slavery.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where is the greatest arsenal of resources?

The greatest arsenal of resources are right within your reach.  They are the records and photographs in you own personal record vault at home. Outside of collecting oral history, this is the most neglected source.  Often we jump online or go toward outside resources too soon when we should gather everything that mentions a family member's name in our own home.

Ask extended family
We need to also consult our oldest living relatives for old obituaries, photographs, or old letters that they may have in their homes.  It is too great a challenge to just dive head first into online databases or archives without the foundation of oral history and personal documents to help you positively identify your ancestor.

How to start
Start simple.  Get a cardboard box,  Spend time gathering.  Place everything you find in the box.  Get manila folders.  Everyone has a preferred filing system.  What has worked the best for me has been to create a folder for each family member I find listed in a document.  If I find a document that lists more than one family member, I create a folder and make a copy of that document to place in each individual's folder.

Individual Folders
Putting individual records into individual folders.

Resource checklist

This is a great checklist of the type of resources that you may find at home or in the possession of an older  relative:
Family and Home Sources Checklist

If I was going to the home of a relative to conduct an oral history interview, I would mail a copy of the "Family and Home Sources Checklist" ahead of time.  I would ask the family member to look around for a few weeks to see if he or she could find any of the listed resources in his or her home.  I would ask them to gather them for me to review when I came to visit.

My experience

You never know who you may discover through extended family members.  I research every family member even if they are not directly related.  Because if this, I have gained so much knowledge about my ancestors.  I have had extended family share photographs that I would not have had.  I do not have photographs of some of my ancestors, so it is so wonderful to look into the faces of cousins and see resemblances.  The stories they have shared have included tidbits about our common ancestors as well.

You will find that the folders start to fill up nicely, and you are able to understand more about each person.  When I go to the archives or visit a family member, I just grab the folder of the individual I am researching.

Individual Folder

Research Log in pasted in folder of Ora Nelms (Foster)

This helps me to quickly identify the record types which I am gathering, and I can easily see what I am missing for each individual.  I try to collect everything I can on an individual especially if they are my ancestor or in the same family group as my ancestor.  I do this because it takes the guesswork out of who the end-of-the-line ancestor is connect to.  Usually, I connect to the next generation when I find a resource that mentions the person by name.  This method has helped me to identify many details and has keep me from duplicating my research. I do not have to wonder where I left off in my research.

In the next article, we will talk about Research Folders a little more and a few other records and logs you may include to be more efficient.

See also Gather Records and Photos on Hand

Previous Post:

Decide who you would like to trace


  1. Thanks for posting this. When I began (late 80s/ early 90s), I was very organized and very focused. Last year, came off about a 10 year break in the research and my organization now leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully, in 2011, I can get back to being better organized with my research.

  2. Thank you for your comment. You are welcome, Mavis. I am glad to know you found this post useful.

  3. Thank you for this great article. African Americans need all the help they can get. I would like to know how to get information on how to find a persons initial slave holder and accessing the necessary documents to determine place of orgin, parents and other family members etc., Thank you.


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