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Club Memberships

Some less official resources you have never thought of checking could lead to great dividends for you. Here are some genealogy resources you might never have thought of.

Did your ancestor belong to any social, fraternal, military, religious or other clubs? If so, check with local chapters for information about that membership. Was he an officer of the club? Did she organize local club drives for the less fortunate? How long did the membership last? Did the individual become a regional or national officer? Did they get any awards from the club for meritorious service, or long membership such as a 50-year pin?

Does this club membership tell you anything you did not know about this individual?

Where can you find such information? If the club still exists locally, try the club secretary for information about past members. If the club does not exist locally, but does exist regionally or nationally, try those offices for information. The local club's records may have been sent there when it disbanded locally.

Also, try the local library or archives for information there. Try the local newspapers for their archival information. If there is no longer a local newspaper from that era, try a local archive or university. Many universities have microfilmed old newspapers, and you may be able to find information there.

Talk to people in town who may know something more about the town's past. Is there a local historian? Is there a local history society? Do they publish materials which might include such information? Is there a local archive which has old newspaper articles, books of minutes of clubs, etc.?

Do not give up your search easily. There is an amazing amount of old information for the asking. All it takes usually is persistence and organization in your search.

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Family Bibles

Another of the less official resources is the family bible. They can provide invaluable information found nowhere else!.

Family bibles are sometimes handed down from one generation to the next. The trick is often to find which relative in the generation got the bible. If you are really lucky, the family bible may have come to you.

Is it a bible with births, marriages, and deaths recorded in it on pages at the front that were bound in the bible? If so, you need to be careful about using those dates as true. It is not that ancestors might have lied about the information, but you need to try to determine if the events were recorded at the time of their happening, or later when someone sat down to fill in these pages.

One thing to check is the handwriting, and the writing instrument. If you have 3 or 4 generations of information written in these pages, and all the writing is the same hand and, often, the same ink, then you can presume that all these entries were written at the same time. Obviously then, the early ones were not written at the time of the event, and there could be errors. Sometimes sons and daughters knew their parents' birth dates for month and day but were not certain of the year. So, they put in a year based on secondhand information from a brother or sister or niece or nephew of a deceased person. Be sure to check these dates carefully against other more official documents such as the governmental vital statistics records if possible.

One thing that bibles may have in them too are other tidbits of information, and even old photographs if you thumb through all the pages.

Again, don't give up the hunt too easily. You may not know where the bible is, or even if one exists, but a cousin may know or even have it. Check with all your relatives.

Another place to check is on Rootsweb and other genealogy sites on the internet. Sometimes other people will have come across a family bible at an estate sale or antique shop. If you can prove it is your family, most of them are willing to let you have the old bible.

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Letters

Letters, postcards, telegrams, and other forms of written communication between family members may still exist. Again, the trick is to find it. If you have family members who are storing old boxes from their parents or other relatives, ask if you can go through the boxes to see what you can find which might help fill in information about the day-to-day lives of your ancestors.

I have a second cousin who has recently gone through letters he wrote when he was away fighting in the second world war. He did not know his mother had kept the letters, but they have provided the meat for a book he has written.

You never know where this material will show up, but the trick is to exhaust all the possibilities, beginning with close relatives, and moving out further. Perhaps your ancestor kept up a correspondence with a distant cousin of hers because they grew up together, but after marriage they both moved and did not see each other. They, however, maintained the bond they had as children through letters.

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Mementos

Mementos from dances, weddings, showers, inductions into societies, sports teams, almost anything may turn up in some of those boxes you or your relatives may be storing in the attic or basement. Again, these items can provide an insight to a piece of the life of your ancestor.

Brownie test card inside from 1940s in Canada
My Brownie test card from 1940s in Canada

For instance, did you know that your father had a tryout with the Detroit Tigers before you were born? But he decided that he was just newly married, and needed to pursue a career as a pharmacist rather than the risky venture of making the big leagues or traveling on buses to one little town after another as a minor league pitcher?

Or that your grandfather took a cattle boat to England when he got out of high school, working his way there, and then spent some weeks visiting family in the old country, and wrote a diary of his days on the trip? And when he got home from his trip he decided he did not want to be a farmer any more, went to college, and became a physician and surgeon.

Look through those mementos for college and high school diplomas, grade records, diaries, invitations to many different types of functions, and see what more you can learn about your ancestors from the mementos they kept. After all, the mementos probably represent those things that were important to them.

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Photographs

Many of you have probably come into possession from your parents of photographs. Those that are of your immediate family are likely ones you can put names to. However, many of the old photographs do not contain any information about who is in the pictures. These can be extremely frustrating since you have no way of knowing if they are photographs of an ancestor or someone else.

If you have relatives who are older they may be able to help identify some of the people and places and events in the photographs. If they are pictures of groups such as a military unit, a club picture, a sports team photo, perhaps there are others who can help you name the people.

My mother had a trunk full of old photographs, but she could not name most of the people in those photographs which was difficult for me. All those photos, and no way to know who they were. She was an only child so it was hard to find someone who might help me identify many of them.

What all this tells you is as you take photographs now, remember to identify in some manner the date, the event, and the identity and location of that photo. Think of your descendants with hundreds of unidentified pictures!

When you come across identified photos, you can often learn a great deal about ancestors and their lives. So, again, do not give up too easily in your quest to find photos, and to identify who and what they represent.

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Professional Memberships

Memberships in professional organizations most often deal with the working life of an ancestor. Such things as being a member of the local law association, the Ontario Medical Society, or the Professional Engineering Society are likely to give us insight into the requirements of an ancestor's profession. They are also good places to find out more about the working life of an ancestor. What kind of law or medicine or engineering did she pursue? Did he garner any professional awards? Did she invent a new widget or did he help discover the use of X-Rays in medical practice?

Along with the chance of discovering a professional membership certificate in one of those boxes you are storing, check with local, regional, and national offices of professional groups for further information.

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Relatives

This one seems obvious, but all too often relatives are not considered a less official resource. So you may have an older aunt you have never met, but you should consider her a possible source of information on a part of the family that may shed light on your branch too.

Don't dismiss a relative because he or she has not seemed to be interested in genealogy or the family tree. If you can talk with them, with a tape or video recorder, and ask them open-ended questions about what life was like when they were young, what they remember about their Aunt Nell or their Uncle Robert, it is often quite amazing what you will hear as they recall their past.

If your family has family reunions regularly or even occasionally, try to get to them and spend some time just finding out who is who, how they are related, what they remember. Most older people like to talk to someone who is interested in hearing about their past, so capitalize on that. You may be stunned at what you hear.

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Yearbooks

You might not think of school yearbooks as one of the less official resources for information about your family members - and you would be making a mistake.

Yearbooks from all levels of schooling can give you a variety of information about your ancestors. Usually they contain pictures of classes, sports teams, school clubs, faculty and staff, drama productions, marching band, orchestra, and many other things depending upon the school.

The photos usually have the names of everyone, which helps you identify an ancestor. Clubs usually have the names of the officers and often a picture of the members. The same is true of the other activities in the school.

From this you may learn that your grandmother was quite a field hockey player in her day, or that your uncle played a trombone in the marching band - information you may have never known.

If you do not have yearbooks in your box collection, check the local libraries, schools or archives for copies. Often there is a complete set available for your perusal if you get to the right source.

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