Center for Archival Collections
Learning about Sources: Other Records
Atlases and Maps of cities and counties can be helpful to genealogists for a variety of reasons. Learning the location of ancestors' homes reveals the county, township, and community likely to have records of particular events, the churches they may have attended, and the cemeteries in which they may have been buried. Records of ancestors who lived in "border" areas may be found on either side of that border. Many 19th century atlases have extensive additional information about the history of the area and biographies of the people who lived there. Advertisements and illustrated plates may also reveal information about a family business or homestead.
City and County Directories were published from about the middle of the 19th century onward. Early directories include an alphabetical listing of all the heads of household within a community (sometimes with their occupations or spouse's name, current address or even their hometown), and include advertisements for businesses. Later directories include this information as well as information on government agencies, social organizations, churches, cultural institutions, and indexes by business type, by street address, and by telephone number. Larger communities published a new directory every year or two, which can be very helpful in determining when a person arrived, left an area, or died.
City and County Histories have been published throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Usually compiled by amateur historians, they tell the story of white settlement, the development of local government agencies, the rise of business and industry, and the founding of schools, churches, and social and cultural institutions. Most valuable for the family historian are the lengthy biographical sketches of prominent citizens, which often include genealogical information. These publications were succeeded by biographies and narrative family histories compiled by local genealogical societies.
Newspapers and Obituaries are good sources for additional information regarding weddings, funerals, and family reunions. Small town newspapers are especially valuable for their "social news" recording the comings and goings of local families. Newspapers with county-wide coverage often carry information in special columns devoted to area communities. Early obituaries and wedding notices may be a single sentence in the social news column, or may appear in a more formalized "notices" section.
- If possible, establish dates through vital records before searching newspapers.
- These publications were rarely indexed. However, they were often organized geographically and can be scanned quickly for people who lived in a particular area. Separately published indexes may be available for some publications.
- Many of these publications were produced "by subscription"--those who purchased an advertisement or space for a biography would be included, while those who did not, did not appear in the book.
- Members of minority communities (whether racial, ethnic, or religious) are likely to be overlooked in "mainstream" publications.
- All publications are subject to errors. Information in biographical sketches should be confirmed by other sources whenever possible. Consult the sketches of parents, siblings, and cousins to find additional information which may not be available in your specific ancestor's biography.
- Be aware of publication schedules. Check the introductory material of city directories to see the actual time period the publication covers. Allow a week following a death for an obituary to appear in a daily newspaper, two to three weeks in a weekly newspaper.