The Challenge for the Genealogy Researcher: That Box Marked Miscellaneous

Genealogy surprises are often found in the most unexpected places. And during unusual times. So, while summer is slow, is the living is easy for the genealogist? Well, it may be. And it may just be more fun than easy–especially when the family history researcher finds that old box marked “Miscellaneous”.

This RecordClick genealogist wants to be a little lazy. It’s summer. It would be so nice just to find the family tree of another family history researcher – the person who has done the work for me – copy it and be good to go.

But somehow, somehow, that just won’t do it for me. Once in a while, I do find a tidbit of genealogy information, but then I need to double (or triple) check to be sure the data matches mine. No time, no time.

I can check the online genealogy indexes. If it is not indexed, I just don’t want to deal with it. I have places to go, things to see, people to meet and chores to do.

That odd file of this this genealogical researcher labeled Miscellaneous is just going to have to wait. There can’t be anything of value in that. It is just too much trouble.

Genealogists find the darndest things in those old boxes hidden away and suddenly found!

Genealogists find the darndest things in those old boxes hidden away and suddenly found.

Yet, a good family history researcher cannot afford to be lazy.

A while back, this professional genealogist got an email from the Nebraska State Historical Society. Once a month or so there’s a brown bag lunch with a presentation given by a staff member or guest speaker. When I got that email, what piqued my interest? Gayla Koertig, Curator of Government Records, was giving a talk entitled “York County Progress, 1870-1900: The Dream Unfolds”.

In the State of Nebraska, county offices are being encouraged to send their old records to the State Historical Society which has an active digitization program. Amongst the York County holdings, there were a couple of boxes marked, of course, Miscellaneous.  They contained documents from 1870-1930. These boxes were, of course, on the top shelf and a bit dusty. My professional genealogist ears perked right up.

Dr. Koertig described the boxes. They were rather non-descript. The papers on the inside were rolled up with very old rubber bands, or what was left of rubber bands. She thought it would only take a couple of weeks to go through them. Well, she thought wrong, and I was glad I went to the brown bag lunch.

Genealogy researchers can glean information from any of a number of resources. Conferences are good places for genealogists to get ideas. Dusty nooks and crannies and, yes, top shelves are perfect spots, too, to look for those odd records which may contain that one missing piece of information for a genealogy researcher to get a new piece in the family history puzzle.

Among the items Dr. Koertig found:

•An 1879 Statistical Census.
No names were listed, but occupations and causes of death were. It may be difficult, but sometimes names can be extrapolated from the information.

•Early lists of Fire Department members.

•Teacher applications from 1882-1900.
In some areas, there was no formal application. Individuals desiring a job wrote down their information on a sheet of paper. There were many, many school districts and often teachers changed schools every couple of years. The curator was anxious to get these digitized because some of the applications were on paper that was crumbling.

•A year or two of property tax protests.
Things haven’t changed much in the past 120-plus years. Life goes rolling merrily along and then a property tax increase happens and folks get upset. Their recourse is to file a protest. It makes for interesting reading.

•Courthouse construction documents.
There were some issues. Rarely does construction go completely as planned. There are names in the documents.

•Drought relief.
Potatoes were distributed to those in need during a drought and the recipients’ names are listed.

•Poor Farm documents.
The county had a Poor Farm from the 1890s to the 1940s and had contracts with those individuals operating the facility.

Many of these documents would be of interest to the family history researcher. Yet, they were in boxes marked Miscellaneous and were easy to overlook.

Dr. Koertig planned to spend two or three weeks going through these boxes. Instead, it took her a couple of months. No time? Often a genealogy researcher has to make time. Can I guarantee that something wonderful will be found in that box or envelope marked Miscellaneous? No. The process takes time–with no certainty of what may be discovered.

By the way, this professional genealogist has a list a mile long of people to be thanked for creating records and indexes that are valuable to me. There are genealogy researchers, historians, curators, volunteers and, possibly, someone applying for a teaching position or protesting a property tax increase in York County, Nebraska.

And those Miscellaneous boxes and envelopes? They have made my genealogy research life a lot more fun.

Do you need help finding that one piece of information? Hire a genealogist at RecordClick to thoroughly research and create your special family history.

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