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Six genealogy secrets found in the library's vertical file

Six genealogy secrets found the library's vertical file
Six genealogy secrets found the library's vertical file
By Robin Foster, 2013

The secret to uncovering your roots may be awaiting you in the vertical file at the local library where your ancestor lived. Many local history rooms in county, parish and university libraries keep a smorgasbord of loose papers, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, and photos that can tell you a lot about the history of the area and maybe your family too.

This is a great way to discover basic information if you are just beginning your genealogy research. Six types of resources that you may discover are:

Biographical information

Miscellaneous papers, newspaper clippings, or other articles contained in folders about specific people provide a brief sketch of a person’s life, and you may discover a family member among these files. Some items have been donated, and sometimes staff or volunteers have just gathered information about people of interest that lived in the area. Look for an ancestor or someone with the same surname among the file folders. They will be organized alphabetically.


Did your ancestors work in the local mill? Wouldn’t it be nice to find firsthand accounts from people who were engaged in the same type of employment? Whole villages grew up around mills.

Many endured extremely low pay and long hours. For example, see this video about mill villagers of Tupelo, Mississippi in 1937. Perhaps you will find the history of the mill or other businesses where your family worked or owned.

Cemetery and funeral home records

Looking for the family cemetery? Sometimes older cemeteries no longer exist or are in places that have not been documented. The next place to try would be the funeral home. Do you need a clue there too? Well, check for information on cemeteries and funeral homes in the vertical file.

Church history

If you research back far enough, you will reach a time period where birth, marriage and death records do not exist. If you are lucky, you might find the history of the church where your ancestor attended. If you are really lucky, you may learn that church records were kept and still exist. Browse the vertical file for clues.

Local history

A perfect place to get a quick snapshot of important people, historical sites and events in local history is to take a look at the resources in the vertical file. This will help you gain further insight about what life was like for your ancestor, and you may even find more ideas to direct you in your search.

Military history

Discover the names of people who served their country and earned the praise of local citizens. Newspaper clippings in the vertical file tell the stories of those who returned home and those who were not so fortunate.

Some vertical file collections are so extensive that libraries have developed finding aids to help patrons researching their genealogy. Check out this finding aid at Murray State University in Kentucky. Be sure to click here to get the next important resource from the National Genealogy Examiner.

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