Thursday, May 25, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee: Checklist for Ancestor Resources

It turns out that some of the most valuable resources for researching family history are already in our possession or in the hands of family! For which I'm thankful.

During my nine years of blogging, I've told stories of using all sorts of everyday records and artifacts to identify ancestors, understand relationships, locate cousins, and fill out my family tree with more than just names and dates.

Here's a checklist to use as a starting point for thinking creatively about resources you or your family may have on hand. It's not for BINGO. When I was a beginner, I thought the goal was to check off as many items as possible. Nope. The real goal is to identify detail-rich sources that might help our research.

Not all of these sources are available in every family. Not all will have valuable clues that can add to our knowledge of ancestors. But you may get lucky! And if the items are already in your family's possession, they're free.

Here are only a few examples of using some of the everyday resources on this checklist to advance genealogy research. I wish you luck in your research!
  • "Address books" -- within the past week, I used Mom's address book to tear down the brick wall that has long surrounded my paternal grandfather's siblings.
  • "Baby books" -- my husband's baby book enabled me to fine-tune death dates of some older relatives and learn more about relationships by seeing who gave what baby gift and when.
  • "Diaries" -- my late dad-in-law's diaries are sometimes more accurate in pinpointing birth and death dates than gravestones. His entries also helped me identify elusive cousins.
  • "Letters and postcards" -- hubby's family's postcards showed where and when his grandparents and father lived during the early 1900s, and the signatures told me who was in touch with which relatives (and when). Also, letters written to/from my paternal aunt helped me crack the case on my grandfather Isaac's sister.
Note: Other Genealogy, Free or Fee posts are available here.

Looking for an affordable genealogy gift idea? My book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, is available from Amazon ($11.99 paperback, $3.99 Kindle, free for Kindle Unlimited readers). If you already have my book, please would you write a brief review on Amazon? Thank you so much!


  1. That is a great resource, thank you!

  2. I'm fortunate that my grandparents didn't like to throw anything away.

  3. It's a great list! Of the sources you highlighted, I don't have any diaries, but I do have an old address book and a baby book. I also have a wedding reception book, which my 2X great grandmother signed. It's the only signature of hers that I have.

  4. I love your resource and will share your blog post with my students!

  5. Thanks, folks, for reading and leaving comments. Old address books and baby books turn out to be great sources of information, especially in combination with other family history info.

  6. I love this list. I saw a few similar lists on Pinterest a little bit ago and these have been a great resource when researching my ancestors and others. I'll definitely use this one as well when I'm doing my research!

  7. Thank you for the list. There are items on there I have never thought of reviewing. Can't wait to read your other "Free or Fee" posts.

    Alice Keesey Mecoy

  8. Thanks for the list! It's amazing what resources are sometimes missed.


  9. A very useful list. I would love to have had a diary or a journal written by an ancestor, but not to be. But I do have precious letters written between my parents in WW2 and there is something very moving to see the pages that they sat down and wrote - will we see the end of such handwritten documents as we all go electronic. I also have my mother’s handwritten recipe book, and a 1930’s business card for her dressmaking business she set up before her marriage. I have also,found family mentioned in church magazines.

  10. Great List.... Thanks for sharing this useful resource list.