Family Papers: A Genealogical Treasure in Your Own Home

Maybe you are starting your personal genealogy quest and you are out looking for all sorts of documents on the Internet, in libraries, and archives. Very wise move indeed, but you probably neglected to consider the most easily accessible place. Have you ever thought of investigating in your own home?

My mother died almost four years ago and I am in the middle of sorting documents that she had accumulated over the years. Of course, not all of them are of genealogical interest, but still, some are clearly filling blanks in the family history.

For example, my mother had kept the tax returns my father had filled in from the year of their marriage, in 1956, until his death in the mid-eighties. In the earlier years, he was required to indicate his employers' name on the first page of the form as well as the number of weeks he worked for them. I could therefore list all the workplaces where my father was employed during the time of his marriage up to his retirement. This unexpected—but nevertheless significant—inventory also comprised their baptismal records, their marriage contract—I wasn't even aware they had one!—, my mother's high school diploma, their wedding luncheon menu (!), and the songbook my grandmother offered to her then fiancé, my grandfather. I could go on and on.

Imagine, for instance, your ancestor immigrated recently: you could finally get—on the spot!—a long-sought-after proof of his ancestry from his citizenship application! One acquaintance of mine came up with one, not even knowing he had it. Nothing but my suggesting that he should do so convinced him to dig in his deceased parents' papers.

Neither my parents nor my grandparents did leave any correspondence. How about yours? These dusty old letters you kept in a shoebox don't look interesting? Think twice about it. Nothing like a rainy day or a Holiday weekend to start reading them and learn about long lost or unknown cousins.

When my uncle—my mother's brother—died some fifteen years ago, my aunt had passed on his family album and loose pictures from my mother's family to me. The best part of all this was a bunch of funeral cards—some nearly 100-year old—included in the envelope. This was a treasure all right!

Thanks to my mother's foresight, I was also provided with my grandmother's estate settlement. Hence, I discovered that I had the deeds of the two houses her family owned in Montréal since the end of the 19th century.

Who's interested in flipping old tax returns? Genealogists for sure, because experience made clear that no stone should never be left unturned and that the next clue might come from the most unusual sources.