From OnBoard - Newsletter of the BCG

Ann Carter Fleming , "Overlooked Resources: Business, Organizational, and Institutional Records," OnBoard 13 (September 2007): 22-23.

“I have looked everywhere” is often the cry of frustrated genealogists, but have they really? In addition to the basic records, researchers need to use a wide assortment of often-overlooked records.

Catalogs for libraries and archival facilities list many unique record types, including those for businesses, governments, institutions, and organizations. Likewise, numerous websites feature unusual records.

Start by determining the potential record types needed based on the stage of life. During childhood and adolescence, orphanages, hospitals, and schools may be of interest. Midlife offers record opportunities in clubs, directories, professional licenses, and prisons. In an older age, you may find your ancestor in records of an almshouse, pension, or veterans’ organization, and one should not overlook funeral home records at death.

Business newsletters often chronicle personal information about employees including anniversaries, birthdays, births, weddings, and retirements. Manuscript facilities or state archives may be the repository for these newsletters. They may be on microfilm or on file with the company, if still in business. Business directories, like city directories, are often beneficial. A good example is the Martindale–Hubbell Law Directory published annually. If you are trying to locate an attorney today or years ago, check this directory. It provides the name of the attorney, the name of his law school, and some biographical information.

Government publications include records from local, state, and federal levels. Mayor or county commissioner reports may list cemeteries, schools, hospitals, or perhaps the dairy farmers in the community. Other civic publications may list employees such as police, firemen, library staff, and teachers.

Federal documents range from the Papers of the Continental Congress, which contain signatures of average citizens who signed petitions in the 1770s and 1780s, to more recent publications, including listings of those buried in national cemeteries.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employed millions of people in the 1930s, perhaps your ancestors or those of your next client. The employment records for these workers are housed at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and are available by mail (http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/civilian-personnel/). These records include place of employment, employee information and wages, educational opportunities and experiences, and personal background information.

Have those frustrated genealogists looked at records of religious organizations? When a person joins a religious order, the order records their family history information. This file also contains contact information for living siblings or parents. Those files are maintained at the home of that order and available to family members via written request. Photos may be included as well.

Coroner and cadaver records may expand your knowledge of an individual’s death. A coroner’s file may provide the circumstances of the death, an autopsy report may reveal potential family health data, and statements from witnesses may disclose additional family information. One coroner’s record from 1910 gives details about a street peddler who died while pushing his cart along his regular route. Included was a statement from his wife and an inventory of the cart. The inventory lists notion items that were important to many households in that era, not just those along that peddler’s route.

Most genealogists have used World War I draft registration cards in their research. But how many have looked for World War I Bonus pay records? Most states paid bonuses to World War I veterans or their heirs. The benefit amount and date varied from state to state. In 1922 Missouri veterans received their payment consisting of ten dollars per month of service with a maximum of twenty-five months. These records are available at most state archives. The same veterans were eligible for bonus pay from the federal government in 1935.

A professional license is required for many occupations today as it was in the past. Some of these licenses are listed on the websites of the Secretary of State in your area of research or are available from their office.

Some societies have published school records, including information on both students and staff. Teacher certificates, class lists, and school photographs are often included. Some publications even provide a sample of eighth-grade tests. While your ancestor may or may not be named in one of these publications, they do provide background information for the time and area.

As board-certified genealogists, we should lead the way in broadening our research and exploring new opportunities, which will only improve our success rate. Records overlooked by one genealogist are commonly used records by another. Next time you visit a library, study a new record type. Or, when attending a genealogical conference, listen to a lecture on a new topic. Then share this information with fellow researchers.

Standard 19 in The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual states: “reasonably extensive research is prerequisite—regardless of whether the problem is simple or complex—and includes appropriately broadening the search beyond the person, family, event, or record of most-direct impact on the project.” With this in mind, all genealogists need to insure their research has a broad scope.

When genealogists use a wide range of records and incorporate information from them in a research report or publication, the reader or client will have confidence in the work. Nobody can look at every record; however, genealogists should be aware of the unique records in their research area and use them as often as possible.

Ann Carter Fleming, CGSM

This article was originally published in OnBoard, BCG's educational newsletter and is protected by copyright. Individuals may download and print copies for their personal study. Educators are granted permission to provide copies to their students as long as BCG, OnBoard, and the appropriate author are credited as the source of the material. Republication elsewhere is not permitted.