5 Little-Used Records for Genealogical Research

30 Jan 2013

1. Consulate Records

Many of us have ancestors who spent at least some time abroad. Perhaps they were seamen, sailing from port to port to deliver goods to foreign ports and bring others back to America. Perhaps they were serving as missionaries in far-off lands. Whatever the reason, you may find information about them, including records of birth, marriage, and death, in the records of the State Department. These records are housed at the National Archives. In order to find this information, you will need to know the date and place where your ancestor was. With that, you can discover the consulate or embassy that served that location.


2. Local Censuses

We often use federal and state censuses as part of our research. But how about local censuses? In Massachusetts, for example, the cities and towns (except for Boston) are required to “annually in January or February visit or communicate with the residents of each building in their respective cities and towns and, after diligent inquiry, shall make true lists containing, as nearly as they can ascertain, the name, date of birth, occupation, veteran status, nationality, if not a citizen of the United States, and residence on January 1 of the preceding year and the current year, of each person three years of age or older residing in their respective cities and towns.” Accessing those records at town hall could provide a gold mine of information.


3. Fraternal/Benefit Organizations

These can be a rich source of information, even more so when dealing with immigrants. In the days prior to the widespread availability of insurance, many organizations were founded as mutual aid/mutual benefit societies to provide assistance in time of need. Many of these were founded by immigrant groups (such as the Irish and the Catholic Order for Foresters), and their records may provide information on the immigrant’s origins. The same can be true of other groups, such as the masons, who recorded the lodge where incoming members first joined, and other lodges he had been a member of. This valuable information can help you track the movements of your ancestors.


4. Ear or Cattle Marks

In many times and places, livestock was allowed to wander in communal areas. This mandated that people be able to identify their own livestock from that of others. Marks were made in different ways. Sometimes a pattern of cuts would be made in the ear. Other times, brands were used in the animal’s hide. This allowed owners to cull their livestock from a communal herd. The marks were proprietary, and were often passed from father to son. They could also be sold as part of a person’s estate.


Pet license information from the city of Milton, Washington.


5. Dog Licenses

Dogs have been the pets of humans for centuries. By the nineteenth century, licensing was often required in populated areas. How can dog licenses help you genealogically? Think of them as a specialized form of tax list. Dog licenses can provide evidence of where a person lived. They might even provide you with an exact address, which is especially helpful in areas where city directories were sparse. And, of course, you can learn more about the family pet as well.