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Loose Records, What Are They?

Loose Records, What Are They?

Genealogists are always on the lookout for new records. As the archivist of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, one type of record that I find genealogists are unfamiliar with is loose records (also referred to as loose papers).

Archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies and even museums have bound record books. These bound record books contain such information as County Court Minutes, Marriage Records, Deeds, Last Will and Testaments and much more. Genealogists are usually well versed in finding, requesting and researching in these types of bound records.

Bound Records
Bound Records. Photo courtesy of Melissa Barker of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

There is another type of record source that you should be doing genealogy research in and accessing. This record source is loose records/loose papers. The name of these records is very telling. In most cases, they are literally “loose” documents or papers that are not bound in any type of book. These loose records are also archived differently from the bound records.

Loose records are considered the “working papers” or “accompanying paper work” to the records recorded in a bound volume. Loose records, many times, can hold additional information and fantastic discoveries for the genealogist that are not found in the bound volumes.

Some bound volumes that have loose records associated with them include:

Court Records

The court system produces bound volumes of minute books and docket books. Most of the time, the courts also produce boxes of loose records. For instance, each court case is usually recorded in a bound volume. The case that is recorded in the bound volume includes the pertinent information about the case and how the case was resolved. The loose records associated with a court case contain such records as affidavits, subpoenas, witness statements, photographs and sometimes even actual evidence. These loose court records can be archived in their original sleeves in archival boxes or the records are removed from the sleeves, flattened, cleaned and put in archival file folders. The loose court records are something every genealogist should seek out when doing research in court records. Don’t just settle for the information that is recorded in the bound volumes.

Marriage Records

Genealogists are very familiar with marriage records that are found in bound books. We can usually locate the marriage license, marriage bond and the marriage return. Once we have found these records, we think we are done. In many cases, this is not true. Like the court records, marriage events could have loose records associated with them and are not archived with the bound volumes. For instance, in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have a collection of Loose Marriage Records dating from 1950-2014. These loose marriage records consist of documents like parent permission letters, blood test results and copies of the marriage license. Like the court records, these documents are archived in archival file folders and boxes separately from the bound volumes.

Loose Papers
Loose Papers. Photo courtesy of Melissa Barker of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Probate Records

One of the most coveted type of records that genealogists seek is the last will and testament of their ancestor. If a will can be found, we hope it will give us clues about other family members. Along with the last will and testament are the other probate records that were generated during the estate probate process. Items such as the administrator bond, estate sale and estate inventory. Some of these records and information are in bound volumes, however, still more are found in loose records. Keep in mind that the information found in the bound volumes (also referred to as copy books) are copies of the original documents and not originals. The documents deemed most important were copied and bound but the loose papers contain all the originals. Other items that could be found in the loose probate records are handwritten letters from family members, affidavits from family members, detailed invoices from local businesses that the deceased owed and so much more. Loose probate records are one of my favorite record sources to do genealogy research. It is important to remember that what is found in the bound probate records may not be all that is available for a particular probated estate.

These few examples are not the only types of bound records that have loose records associated with them. It is always a good idea to ask the archivist about what they have available that are separate from the bound volumes. Most archivists know their collections and should be able to help you find those wonderful loose records, if they exist.

So, the next time you are visiting an archive or contacting them by email or phone, ask about their collections of loose records. The information found in them will most certainly add to your ancestor’s story and might even break down a brick wall!


Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, is a Certified Archives Manager currently working as the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist. She is also a professional genealogist and lectures, teaches and writes about the genealogy research process, researching in archives and records preservation. She has been researching her own family history for the past 28 years.



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Hooray!!! I've tried for years to get Ancestry & other archives to microfilm & later digitize the gold mine that are the loose papers in the courthouse. The tiny chits of paper that indicate the receipt of distribution from a deceased person's estate can give all kinds of information, including whether the husband of a daughter received her portion, where they lived, how much they received from the estate (from which you can work out the level of kinship to the deceased), etc.
The will & the bond books are not the only estate records when someone dies!
Thank you!

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