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Family Artifacts and Genealogy

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Remember those old trunks and boxes you saw when playing around the attic and basement as a child? When you asked, Mom said they were just “family things.” Ask Mom to go through the attic with you. Make sure you have plenty of time. Don't hurry her. She hasn't seen these things for a long time, and as they are lovingly removed from boxes, memories will come flooding back. Have a pencil and paper to make notes. Get the stories behind the items.

Tree Tips

Many scraps of old paper provide clues of some kind. What appears unimportant to you today can later lead to the answer you seek.

Have a tape recorder handy as you go through the boxes and trunks. Record descriptions and ask questions regarding the objects. Be sure to announce on the tape the date, location of the interview, your name, and whom you are interviewing. Leave it running; you don't want distractions caused by turning the recorder on and off.

The little doll—who owned it? It was wrapped with such care—it had to be very important to a little girl at one time. The little toy soldiers at the bottom of the trunk; they are sure to stir memories of the little boys who played with them endlessly. Who were they?

The Objects with Tales to Tell

What about the objects that are going to help tell you about your grandpa, and those before him? How can you find them in that old trunk? But, look. There is a batch of old letters, with a ribbon carefully tied around them. They are still in good condition after all this time. You open them, and read in amazement. There is a letter from Great-Great-Grandpa, written in 1889, when he went to Texas to look for a piece of land. He wrote back that he was getting discouraged, that he missed the family, and was about to come home. But then, three weeks later, another letter. He finally found what he wanted. He described the land, and the little farmhouse on it. He promised to be back home soon to bring the family to Texas. Uncle George found a place, too. They will be living nearby. George's wife Mary is already starting to fix up their home. Now you have some names and locations. These will prove important as you search.

Family members, when queried, will often say, “But I don't have anything that would help.” It is not that they are reluctant to assist; they just don't realize the significance of what is stored in the old boxes.

Among the family mementos to look for are these:

  • Photographs
  • Bibles
  • Documents such as deeds
  • Letters
  • Applications for lineage societies
  • Scrapbooks and news clippings
  • Funeral cards
  • Account books
  • Diaries and journals
  • Baby books
  • Tree Tips

    Within a family, memorabilia are those items with significance to the family. This may be the first baby shoe, the wedding announcement, or any other items that evoke memories of the family.

  • Christmas lists and address books
  • Greeting cards
  • Needlepoint samplers
  • Report cards and school diplomas

These are but a few of the memorabilia that hold some clues. Perhaps there is a yearbook, a letter from an alumni association, or an invitation to a school reunion. Be alert to anything that will give you an idea of where you might find further information.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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