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A Genealogist In The Archives: Can You Find Family Histories in the Archives? Yes You Can!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Can You Find Family Histories in the Archives? Yes You Can!

As an archivist, I am asked all the time if we have Family Histories or Family Genealogies in our records collections. I am always pleased to be able to say "YES". Many of the archives across the United States and in other countries have compiled family histories.

Family histories that have been compiled by genealogy researchers are a great research tool for genealogists. 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 Files, Houston County, TN. Archives

Most family histories are donated by genealogists to the archives. Many times genealogists who donate their family histories to archives are doing it for "cousin bait". They are hoping that other genealogists come along that are researching the same surnames and make a connection.

Recently, the Houston County, Tennessee Archives received a records donation of someone's genealogy research that included several 3-ring binders full of information and compiled family histories. This records donation represents a lifetime of genealogy research and we were so fortunate the records were donated to our archives.

Compiled genealogy research in 3-ring binders Houston County, TN. Archives

When you visit an archive, you will find these family histories in one of two places.

First, you can find them in the Vertical File Collections. Ask the archivist if they have an index to their Vertical File Collections. 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.

The other place family histories could be found are in Manuscript Collections. When working with manuscript collections, be sure to consult the Finding Aid. The finding aid contains a box-by-box, folder-by-folder listing of what is in the collection. Family histories should be indicated in the finding aid.

Ask the archivist 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.

Unfortunately, many vertical file collections and manuscript collections are not online and will have be accessed by visiting an archive or contacting them by email, snail mail or by phone.

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



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  1. Melissa,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Genealogy Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Thank You Jana! As always, I appreciate you recognizing my blog and my work!