Getting Started: Family Records

For beginners in genealogical research or for those wishing to add biographical information to their family history projects, records found within the homes of family members may be a great starting point. Be on the lookout for useful documents as relatives sort through their storage rooms and attics; with each newly discovered cousin there is the potential that a set of records will be discovered and may be explored.

Family Bibles

  • Used to record events such as births, marriages and deaths.
  • Often have a special section for recording such events, which may be found between the Old and New Testaments or in the last pages of the volume.
  • Often used as a place to file keepsakes and important documents; it is important to leaf through the pages.

Diaries, Account Books, and Family Letters

  • Contemporary sources which provide information on events.
  • Excellent record of the personality traits and lifestyles of those who wrote them.
  • May mention other relatives with whom ancestors kept in touch over the years.


  • Official documents are kept to prove events have taken place, such as births, baptisms, confirmations, initiations, graduations, memberships, citizenship, military service, marriages and deaths.
  • Governments, churches, educational institutions, clubs and societies usually issue these documents.
  • Usually provide names, dates and places, and may provide information on parentage and other family relationships.
  • May also offer clues as to the social associations of an ancestor within the community.

Deeds and Wills

  • Document the property owned by an individual. Their purpose is to prove ownership or to transfer ownership to someone else, but they may also provide valuable clues as to the residence and material well-being of the person involved.
  • Wills may also indicate the names and addresses of ancestors of which the family historian is unaware, and they may provide unique glimpses into the personal lives of family members.

Invitations and Announcements

  • In the past it was customary to send announcements of marriages and deaths, and in more recent times birth announcements and wedding invitations have become commonplace. These items contain valuable genealogical information.

Family Photographs

  • May reveal interesting visual details about family members, residences, businesses, activities, and social relationships.
  • Often have useful information jotted on the reverse such as names, ages, and residences of individuals.
  • In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was popular for studios to mount their photographs on stiff cardboard embossed with the studio's name and address. In the case of older pictures found in family collections, these may offer clues to the residence of family members.

Family Histories, Local Histories, School Yearbooks

  • May provide varying amounts of information on family members and the communities in which they lived.
  • Given the chances for typographical and editorial errors in printed items, researchers are advised to be cautious in accepting the accuracy of the content.

Newspaper Clippings

  • Birth, marriage and death announcements, obituaries and stories of other events important to the family
  • Again, given the chances for typographical and editorial errors in printed items, researchers are advised to be cautious in accepting the accuracy of the content.

Other Family Keepsakes

  • Various other family keepsakes such as birthday and autograph books, embroidery samplers, embroidered quilts, etc., may provide clues for genealogical purposes, such as names, dates, and family relationships.

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