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A Genealogist In The Archives

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Are Family Histories in the Archives?   You Bet They Are!

As the archivist for the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, I am asked all the time if we have Family Histories or Family Genealogies in our collections.  I am always pleased to be able to say "YES".  While we may not have one for every surname known to have lived in Houston County, we do have many in our records collections.

Family histories that have been compiled by genealogy researchers are a great research tool for the genealogist.  While they may not be 100% correct, they can be used as a guide to help the researcher find more documents or give them an idea of where to look next for their ancestors.

Vertical File Drawer for the letter "C" containing Surname Files, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Most family histories are donated as part of a larger collection of records that have been donated to the archives. Recently, the Houston County, Tennessee Archives received a records donation of someone's genealogy research that include several 3-ring binders full of information and compiled family histories. Some of these surnames are not native to Houston County but we will archive them anyway.  Once this collection is cataloged, it will be open to the public for research and in the Finding Aid it will indicated what family histories are included by surname.

There are times when family histories or family records are donated to an archives, historical society or library that are not native to the area where the facility is located. That is why it is very important for researchers to not give up looking for their ancestors records, you just don't know where you are going to find them!

Compiled genealogy research in 3-ring binders donated to the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

When you visit a repository, you will find these family histories in one of two places.  First, you can find them in the Vertical File Collection or sometimes they are called Subject File Collections.  Ask the archivist or clerk if they have an index to their Vertical File Collection. This index will have surnames listed and if you find a surname you are interested in, then ask for that file to be brought to you and hopefully there will be a family history in the file.

Second, the other place family histories could be found are in the Manuscript Collection. The manuscript collection contains the larger records collections that have been donated to the repository such as the collection mentioned above that the Houston County, Tennessee Archives just received.

Ask the archivist or clerk at the repository to see an index of their Manuscript Collection and if you find a collection that catches your attention, ask to see the Finding Aid for that collection.  Within the finding aid will be a folder by folder listing of what is contained in the entire collection and there should be listed "Family History" or "Family Genealogy". You can ask the archivist or clerk to pull that folder that contains these records for you to look through.

Unfortunately, most of these types of records are not online and will have be accessed by visiting an archives or contacting them by email, snail mail or phone call.

So, the next time you think to yourself, "Do archives have family histories?", you know the answer is YES!

Remember: "It's Not All Online, Visit Or Contact An Archives Today!


  1. Thank you for writing about the great resources to be found in archives. I've written several posts about searching not only archives, but local libraries and historical societies because they are all often overlooked by many researchers. Great post!

    1. Thank you Linda! You are so right about these repositories being overlooked by researchers. And now that so many people think "everything is online" they are visiting and contacting archives, historical societies, libraries, etc. even less. I guess you can tell I am trying to "shout from the roof tops" that we all need to use our repositories and the wonderful records they hold!

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