1. Court records
Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott once said, “What is a diary as a rule? A document useful to the person who keeps it. Dull to the contemporary who reads it and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it.”
“When I first read these pages, I was about 20 years old. What she wrote about her aunt was disturbing to me,” Dallas says. But she wonders if her grandmother’s youthful memories were shaped by others’ viewpoints. “She would’ve been about 6 or 7 years old, a little too young to have really comprehended the situation.”
The aunt’s miscarriage also was deeply affecting. “She would have been in her teens at the time—younger than I was at the time of reading the story—and that resonated with me. I couldn’t imagine the loss she must’ve felt.”
You’ll likely have to do some microfilm scrolling as well. Run a place search of the newspaper directory at Chronicling America, which lists historical papers published in the United States and where you can find copies. The local library and state archives where your ancestor lived are likely to be good sources.
My own affiliation with the Mifflin Township (Pa.) Historical Society <www.mifflintownship.org> led to the discovery that my paternal grandparents had a child nobody in our family—even my father—ever mentioned. A society member who was indexing obituaries told me about some Alzos she found. One was for a “Mary Alza,” an infant who died in 1916. She sent me the three-line notice, which read: “Mary, infant of John Alza, died Tuesday at the family home in Linden street, and interment was in St. Joseph’s cemetery.” Using the information, I ordered the Pennsylvania death certificate. Mary was just six months old when she died from bronchial pneumonia Nov. 7, 1916.
Dear Little Sister,
Often the juiciest tidbits are tucked away in rare manuscripts and special collections in public, college and university libraries. I’ve uncovered fascinating details about ancestors in coroner records and an index to court dockets of Allegheny County, both stored at the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center <www.library.pitt.edu/libraries/archives/archives.html>. Using documents in the rare manuscript collections at Cornell University <rmc.library.cornell.edu>, I investigated the story of Guy C. Clark of Ithaca, NY, who brutally murdered his wife, Fanny, in 1831, and was later hanged.
• 52 surprising places to find records <familytreemagazine.com/article/52-week-genealogy-plan>
• Diary bibliographies <familytreemagazine.com/article/Finding-a-Diary>
• Researching an ancestral murder <familytreemagazine.com/article/now-what-researching-a-murder>
• Finding ancestors’ diaries <familytreemagazine.com/article/dear-diary>
• Researching newspapers online <familytreemagazine.com/article/researching-newspapers-online>
• Tracing black sheep ancestors <familytreemagazine.com/article/usual-suspects>
• Using Criminal Court Records on-demand webinar <shopfamilytree.com/using-criminal-court-record-webinar>
• Using Probate Records on-demand webinar <shopfamilytree.com/using-probate-records-webinar>
• Genealogy records from federal agencies <shopfamilytree.com/research-strategies-federal-agency-records>