Joining local genealogical societies and searching small collections

Genealogy is more than Internet searching! Searching online or searching Ancestry can uncover clues, but it should not be your only discovery tool.

Part of hunting for clues in genealogy is to uncover clues in archives and local libraries and courthouses. Have you wondered where to start?

Most regions of the country, states, geographic groups of counties, individual counties or parishes, cities, and townships have archives. In the United States, we have National Archives. But finding information about your particular family, unless they were prominent or notorious, can be discouraging in the largest collections.

Rather than start at a large archive, I have had more success by “going local.”

Start at the little library or the local courthouse where your ancestors lived. Whether the family was there for 100 years or a dozen, you might be surprised at how many things there are to discover at a small local collection. This approach has worked for me dozens of times. From reading the family history books and Centennial books to looking at local plat maps and property atlases, there are rich clues to uncover. Church records and local funeral homes often donated their records to these local archives. Most of these smaller locations have vertical files by surname and obituary card files. Don’t forget to ask about those!

Another important step is to join the local genealogical or historical society where your ancestors were living. Most yearly memberships are between $10 and $20 per year. The newsletters that these society volunteers generate are full of gems.

I had been following a trail of Samuel Todd, my 2nd great grandfather. I was fairly certain, living in Lawrence County, TN, that he was involved in the Civil War. But I couldn’t find a record of him in any of the local regiments. One day my Lawrence County newsletter arrived. In it with an article about George Washington Shaffer and his best friend Samuel Todd. Apparently Samuel did serve in the Civil war, but he and his friend joined a group from Iowa that was passing through. I would have never looked in Iowa for him. And I would have never found this nugget without the help of the local genealogical society.

from Lawrence County, TN, Genealogical Society

from Lawrence County, TN, Genealogical Society Newsletter

While you are there, please donate. And when you compile your family history involving that area, donate a copy of your files and documents to their collection.


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