Are You Using These 3 Genealogy Record Types?

records Jun 02, 2021

As genealogists, we typically use core records when we start exploring a person or a family. These core records include censuses, vital records, probate records and wills, gravestones, and land records. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are three records types I want to call attention to. These are what I consider next-level sources.

1. Cemetery Records

I know, I just said gravestones were a typical core record. True, but I’m talking about records beyond the gravestones. There are a variety of cemetery records, but in particular, burial registers and plot cards can provide valuable details. You could potentially find the death date, the burial date, age of the decedent, the purchaser of the grave or plot, the current owner or contact for the plot, names and details about others buried in the same plot, and more. This level of detail can be helpful in situations where no stone exists or if a stone is damaged or unreadable.

Knowing who else is buried in the plot, especially when not everyone has a stone, can help you figure out relationships or at least add more members to a person’s network of associates (a.k.a. FAN Club). I remember many years ago I had visited the cemetery where my father and several of his relatives were buried. Surveying the gravestones in one plot, it would appear that not all the graves were occupied. But the plot card in the cemetery office told a different story. All of those graves were occupied, but only three had stones. Additionally, there was a strange name listed among those without a stone. After a little digging, I learned that she was in fact related to the family, albeit distantly by marriage.

2. Court Records

While we flock to probate records and wills, we’re maybe not so good at considering other types of court records. Many other types of court records aren’t indexed and therefore harder to work with. But you could be missing out on crucial details about your ancestor. Consider looking for civil and criminal court records, and even justice of the peace records. And remember, your ancestor doesn’t have to be the plaintiff or defendant in the case to be mentioned in the records. They could have been a witness, or just simply mentioned for whatever reason. For example, I was working on a client project a few years ago and came across a mention of the ancestor in a civil court case. This ancestor was a neighbor of the defendant and while his mention was brief, we learned that he had moved to Nebraska. With that little clue, we were able to pick up his trail and continue following his life.

3. Tax Records

Now, before you say, "well my ancestor didn’t own land," let me just say that there are many different types of tax records, including poll tax and personal property tax, which could be for anything from livestock to watches. Tax records are great for pinning down an ancestor prior to censuses and in the years between censuses. Following the records year by year can help you determine when someone died, when they were born, when they moved away, their overall wealth over time, and more. For example, I was following someone from 1843 onward. In 1852, he was no longer listed but his widow was, so now I have an approximate date of death for him.

Quick note about tax records. It is extremely critical to understand the law that governed the specific tax at the time. Typically, poll taxes could be levied when males turned 16, 18, or 21, but it all depends on the law. In other words, don’t assume that when a male ancestor first appears with his father or other siblings that he must have just turned 21. The law may have said males 16 and up were taxable. If you assume 21 and calculate a birth year from that (when the age should have been 16), you’d be off by about five years.

These three record types are just a few of the next-level or out-of-the-box records that I use for solving tough genealogy problems. If you'd like to find out what my other suggestions are, as well as my other problem-solving strategies, you can download my free 8 Genealogy Problem-Solving Strategies guide ๐Ÿ‘‡

© Julie Tarr. This article was first published at Genealogy In Action; appearance of this article elsewhere, without my permission, violates copyright.