Using those faded photos and memorabilia to tell your family story

Genealogy, by all accounts, is an undertaking that often demands some creative thinking.  Once you have exhausted the obvious primary records and documents, it is time to explore other items which may hold clues pertaining to your ancestral history.  Other types of sources, such as photographs and family artifacts, can do more than simply provide data; they offer a distinct glimpse into the personalities and relationships of our ancestors.  These personal mementos can lend color and context to the family tree and ultimately, a more comprehensive picture of the ancestors that preceded us.

Photographs.  Photographs capture static moments which allow you to pinpoint family members at a particular time and place.  Dated photos of an extended family can be used to estimate the ages and positions (great-grandfather, youngest child etc.) of certain individuals within the family.  Photographs can substantiate the death or existence of family members about whom there is scant information or who were not known to exist at all.  In addition to furnishing details about family members, a photograph reveals other clues pertaining to a family’s socioeconomic status, hobbies, religious and political affiliations and lifestyle.

In cases where family photos are difficult to locate or in poor condition, you can explore other resources for copies of photographs that are of personal significance.  Many libraries, museums and information repositories maintain extensive microfilm records of family photographs and histories.  This type of research requires diligence and innovative sleuthing, but such databases exist.  For example, if you are searching for a photograph of a Civil War soldier in your family, the photo archives of the Military History Institute is a good resource to investigate.  These repositories contain not only photographs of individuals; many family historians have been successful in finding other types of pictures, such as those of family tombstones.  Such photos offer an invaluable record of your ancestor’s lives since many older tombstones, even if you are able to physically locate them, have been replaced with newer ones or bear inscriptions that have faded over time.

Family artifacts.  One of the most prolific sources of information may be hiding in your grandmother’s attic.  Military medals, family prayer books, membership cards, insignia on clothing, newspaper clippings etc. all represent opportunities to learn about and connect with one’s past.  Artifacts can be beneficial as actual sources of evidence, such as an infant’s baptism record.  Even if the artifact itself does not contain genuine information, it can be instrumental in guiding you toward the next resource in your research, such as a cemetery record or obituary.  One website which recognizes the value of these family artifacts has made locating them a little simpler. Family Heirloom Exchange is the provider of a website that seeks to match genealogists with tangible items associated with their ancestors.  The founders of the company invite antique dealers to list and sell items with specific family-related information, and for a nominal yearly fee, members are notified when an item matches their surname and family description.  The site has artifacts belonging to over 50,000 families and has successfully placed photos, yearbooks, bibles, Civil War letters, WWII memorabilia and other items with their rightful owners.



Louisa Kalish

Louisa Kalish is a lawyer and a freelance writer for online legal and general interest publications. She became interested in genealogy during a brief stint in pro bono family law. While not engaged in her writing and legal pursuits, she is an active volunteer in several charitable organizations and heads the parenting organization at her children's school. She resides in New Jersey with her husband and three children.

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