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A Genealogist In The Archives: Are Family Histories in the Archives? You Bet They Are!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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 you find more documents or give you an idea of where to look next for your ancestors.

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

Most family histories are part of a larger collection of records that have been donated to the archives. Recently, the Houston County 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 archive, historical society or library that are not native to the area where the facility is located. That is why it is very important that you don't give up looking for your ancestor's records.

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

When visiting an archive, family histories will be in one of two places. First, they could be in the Vertical File Collections, sometimes called Subject File Collections. Ask the archivist if there is an index to the Vertical File Collection. This index will have surnames listed and if a surname of interest is found, ask for that file to be pulled for research.

The other place family histories could be found is in Manuscript Collections. The manuscript collection contains records collections that have been donated to the archive such as the collection mentioned above that the Houston County Archives just received. Also, see my blog post about Manuscript Collections here.

Ask the archivist to view the index of their Manuscript Collection and if a collection is of interest, 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".

Unfortunately, most of these types of records are not online and will have be accessed by visiting an archive 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!



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  1. Very good point about double-checking any family histories, since they're not always correct but they are excellent for clues and ideas!

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  3. I just read over my new copy of your quickgide! I only have one original letter (no envelope). Thanks for the ideas on how to preserve it! It's a 1914 letter from my grandfather in the Panama Canal Zone, where he was working as a carpenter to do the finishing work on the Administrative Building, to my grandmother in Pittsburgh, PA. In late 1917, he moved the whole family, including my mother, who was 4 years old, to the CZ. The letter is 8 pages long and there are 3 photos of the CZ at the top of each page. This is a real treasure, even without the envelope!

    1. Kaye, you truly have a treasure! I love old letters, they can hold so much information to tell our ancestor's story. Thank You for reading my blog and my quick guide!

  4. I haven't done this yet (I hope I still have time), but I found out that the genealogy society back in my hometown/county/region will take my records when I'm gone and if no family wants to carry on with my research. Although I still have crates of "stuff" to go through, I do have original records, family stories and the genealogies of both my husband's and my grandparents (all of them) who homesteaded in that area. My thinking was that since they came in from all over and now, in my generation, have mostly spread out again, that it might be as good a repository as any. They may not have the resources to do more than store it at this point, but I can be assured that it won't all be thrown in a shredder.