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Strategies for Starting Your Family History: Home Sources

Home Sources

Brigham Young University - Ancestors Series

    Now that you’ve learned the basics of citing sources, analyzing evidence and recording your findings, it’s time to start digging.  Where to start?  We always start with what we know and move back, carefully, analyzing and recording evidence which will lead to new clues.  Your search may start with yourself, or it may start with your children.  I elected to start with my children, so both my husband’s and my families would be documented.  

    What documents do you have in your home?  Your birth certificate or marriage certificate, or those of your children are probably around the house, or in the bank safety deposit box.  You might also have baptismal or confirmation certificates, diplomas, or a family Bible.  If your parents have passed away, you may have their death certificates, wills or other documents associated with their estate.  Using the skills learned in the earlier lessons, create source citations for each of these documents, analyze the clues they contain writing a short report on the document, make a list of clues to other documents and record the information either on your family group sheets or input the information into your genealogy software or online family tree.

    This is probably a good time to talk about case you hadn’t noticed, genealogy is not a paperless hobby!  We collect all sorts of documents which we need to organize.  There are all types of filing systems you can select.  Most people I know begin with a binder for each family that contains their family group sheets, notes and documents.  A pre-punched sleeve can hold original documents, photographs, newspaper articles, but it’s important to make sure that the sleeves you select are archival quality and acid free.    You can usually find these at your local office supply store, or online (just google archival sleeves).  If you are going to carry your binders with you on research trips, I’d suggest a photocopy of original documents, with the originals stored away in archival materials.  Never store newspapers with photos or other original documents, as they have a very high acid level and will damage other documents.  These documents should be stored in a safe place in your home where there are no drastic temperature or humidity changes (that means no attics, basements or garages).  You’re probably thinking after the last comment that those home source documents we started discussing are in a shoe box in the attic.  GO GET THEM NOW!

    Another source of information for you are your older relatives.  One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t develop the genealogy bug until after all my grandparents had passed on.   Maybe you’re still lucky enough to have those older relatives...don’t waste any time...go interview them!  Aunt Sally may not be able to remember what she had for lunch, but can probably regale you with stories of her childhood.  Family stories and traditions that are passed down frequently have inaccuracies (it’s like the game of telephone you played as a kid where you whispered sometime to the person next to you, only to get back a very garbled message) but there are usually some bits of truth in them that can be researched.  Don’t forget to bring those unidentified  photos.  Hopefully some one of the older relatives can identify the people in them.

    There are so many different types of documents you can find at  home that it’s not possible to list them all here.  One great worksheet on home sources was created during the Ancestors TV series and you can find it here.  The website has great articles including one on home sources.  One of the best sources of information at my mother-in-laws was a drawer full of Funeral Cards...I don’t think she ever parted with one!  To this day, I go back through those cards on a regular basis.  Names that meant nothing to me when I started are now fiMary Ringelberg - Mass Cardrmly fixed on the family tree.  The cards from Ireland gave me the exact location of the family; one card from Queens, New York gave me the Section, Range, Plot and Grave number in Calvary Cemetery; all provided death dates, the name of the funeral home and some gave me maiden names.

    You might want to check out some “How To” books at your local library.  Below are some of my favorites, along with some online articles you might want to read.

    So here is your assignment for the next week....go through you drawers, basement, attic and any other nook you use for storage and look for items that contain information about your ancestors.  Cite, analyze and document your findings (either on your Family Group Sheet, software or online) and you’ll be off to a great start.

    Happy Hunting!


1.  Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo.  Organizing Your Family History Search,  Betterway Books, Cincinnati, 1999.

2.  Croom, Emily Anne. The Genealogist’s Companion & Sourcebook, Betterway Books, Cincinnati, 1994.

3.  Morgan, George G., How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy, 2nd Edition, McGraw Hill/Osborne. Emeryville, California, 2009.

4. Alzo, Lisa A., “What Do I Care About Those People?  They’re Dead,” Ancestry Daily News, 24 January 2006.

5. Witcher, Cur B., “Digging Deeper: Home is Where the Heart Is,” Ancestry Daily News, 4 March 2006.

6.  Cyndi’s List, Organizing Your Research

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018