Sources - Where?

Family documents, photos and other sources can provide you with many valuable clues to get you started. They may include the names of ancestors, dates and places for births, marriages and deaths and insight into what life was like for your ancestors. Home sources come in many shapes and sizes:


One of the longest surviving and best cared for home sources are photos. They show your ancestors as they were. You may find names and dates on the back. Many early photos are printed on cards with the name and location of the photographer.  This tells you where to look for your family in official records. Approximates historical periods can come from the types of clothing worn, towns or houses pictured in the background or the way in which the people are arranged in group photos.

Family Bibles

Many families used the family Bible to record births, marriages and deaths in the family. A family Bible may often be the only source for birth, marriage and death information recorded before such events were officially registered. If you are so lucky as to locate a family Bible, however, you will need to evaluate it to be sure how trustworthy it is as a source. First, check the date of publication - if some of the entries are from before this date, then that means they were recorded after the event and may not as accurate (memories fade with time). Are the entries all written in the same handwriting and in the same ink? That may mean that they were all recorded at one time and again may not be as accurate as if they were recorded at the time of the event. Be sure to check each individual page for notes, photos and other valuable information which may have been kept in the Bible.


Postcards can provide a wealth of information on your family. Scenes pictured on the cards may include the towns where they lived, ships on which they immigrated, automobiles and other period clues. Personal notes can help with dates, names and relationships as well as providing you insight into the life of the sender or receiver. People who moved away from home often used postcards to keep in touch with family members who remained at home. These may help you to identify the places of origin or immigration. Addresses and postmarks on the cards can help you to track family movements.

Official Records - Birth Certificates, Wedding Invitations

In old shoeboxes, files, scrapbooks, folders, Bibles and baby books you may run across official documents which have been kept by your family members. These include records such as birth, marriage & death certificates, baptismal certificates, naturalization papers, wills, patents, military enlistments or discharges, etc. These records can be invaluable because many copies of such records have been destroyed in registry offices, government buildings and archives through fire, warfare and/or neglect and your family's copy may be the only surviving record. These records provide you with important information about your family. They may also lead you to new records. Your great-grandfather's will which you found in a box in the attic, may lead you to an entire folder full of estate and probate documents at a registry office or in the archives.

Scrapbooks and the fly-leaf of old books.

Scrapbooks can provide a delightful peek into the lives and times of your ancestors. In a scrapbook you will often find newspaper clippings of marriage banns, obituary notices even family celebrations and scandals. Other items often found tucked in books are wedding invitations, funeral cards, birth announcements, diplomas, award certificates, recital or concert programs, school papers, ticket stubs, dried flowers and other important mementos. These may be valuable for the information they provide (names, dates, etc.) or just because they are a little piece of your family's history.

Diaries, Letters & Journals

These can be some of the most personal family sources. They can bring your ancestors alive by telling you what they found important enough to write down. They are usually be full of names and dates. These types of sources are usually full of easily verified current events which makes it easier to determine how accurate the rest of the information may be.

There are many more sources of family information that members of your family may have in their possession. But, bear in mind that family sources are a wonderful treasure but may not always be genealogically reliable. As you discover new things on your checklist be sure to take good notes and be observant. If the record was created at the time of the event (such as an obituary notice), it is more likely to be accurate. Family records created well after the event and/or not recorded by an eye witness may be less accurate

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