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What Are Your Hidden Sources?

What Are Your Hidden Sources?

In 2000 the book, Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places by Laura Szucs Pfeiffer was published. The premise was simple. The book was essentially a list of sources that genealogists rarely used. Each article included information about that record, why it was helpful, where to find it, and additional readings. While this book is focused on American research, some of the record sets can be found outside of the United States and may help the reader consider what records they are missing in their research. 

When this book was published, I devoured it. I wanted to know how to do good genealogical research. That quest required me to know records that held genealogical context, including records that genealogists didn't typically use. Now, mind you, this was when many of these records had to be found by doing in-person research at a government office, library, or archive. While there were a few items online, there wasn't anywhere the number of digitized records we enjoy today.

Some of the records discussed in the book are today considered familiar online records, such as city directories, newspapers, obituaries, military records, court records, and deeds. The main reason they are familiar to today's researchers is the benefit of digitized documents. As more records are made available, we as researchers become more familiar with records that were once difficult to obtain and may have been ignored because of the difficulty. That's why even if an older relative researched your ancestors, you need to see what you can find. Access to records changes over time.

But even today, some of the records written about in Hidden Sources are still what I would consider "hidden" or unusual. They include:

  • Admiralty Papers
  • American State Papers
  • Bankruptcies
  • Fraternal Organization Records
  • Homestead Records
  • Necrologies
  • US Government Documents and Publications
  • Works Progress Administration records

As I peruse the book today, I realize I use most of the records listed and benefit from the digitization of many. But there are some I have never used and don't think about when researching.

One of the records mentioned in the book is midwife records. I have seen some of these records, but overall I haven't used them in research. And although I do know where some are located, I need to do a better job of looking at what might exist where my ancestors lived. I plan to work on this gap in my record knowledge.

So my question for you is, what are unusual or hidden record sources that you haven't used? What records do you want to know more about?


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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Cemetery and funeral home records come to mind. They can be used to identify infants within a family. From a social context, funeral home records can show how well off a family was based on the cost of the casket and other funerary expenses.

I am interested in mid-wife records for 1870s Chicago. Would poor Irish have these records? I gave a birth cert with mid-wife's name.

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