A property deed, weathered and worn, awards 160 acres to a family ancestor following the Homestead Act – the first official documentation for land that remains in the family today.
The ornate text on a certificate from war time explains that a medal is being awarded to the man listed, he having shown great valor in making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
A college diploma, the first earned by a female from the family. The document is handled gingerly by a young woman in the present day, inspiration welling within her to achieve pioneering feats of her own.
In a family history, documents tell stories. These artifacts help make ancestors more real, serving as evidence of their lives and inspiring pride that can define a family legacy.
With FamilySearch’s new Memories Gallery, preserving documents from your family tree is easier than ever – whether you are collecting generations-old artifacts of ancestors or celebrating living relatives. You can save documents in three steps:
1) Upload documents in seconds. Click on the green plus symbol. Then drag and drop documents or choose a file from a folder. Documents are forever preserved in digital form.
2) Add documents to albums. You can organize documents by ancestor, lineage, family event, or another category. Drag a document to the album of your choice on the left, or create a “New Album.”
Have you used FamilySearch’s new Memories Gallery to save documents from your heritage?
If you need inspiration to begin collecting, read these stories from genealogists who have discovered incredible family artifacts – then begin adding family tree documents to celebrate your ancestry!
Genealogists Share Some of Their Favorite Family History Documents
My favorite family history document I’ve come across is my great great great grandmother’s Bible. Not only did the pages include detailed birth, marriage, and death information, the bible also had a few hidden treasurers I wasn’t expecting.
Tucked between the pages were old school records, dried flowers, programs from services, and other heirlooms that had a personal connection to my family. The most exciting part was the pencil mark made after each chapter when she would finish a chapter. She carefully put the date of completion as she worked her way through the book.
Why did this mean so much? Because I got a true glimpse into her life – what I originally thought would be a great resources for the names and dates turned out to hold so many other details about her life.
Every African American family I know has an oral history that claims Native American ancestry. Mine is no exception.
In the early years of my research, I had no clue about how to substantiate the stories. But then, I discovered the Dawes Rolls. That is where I found my great great grandmother’s name – Bettie Gavin – designated as “Mississippi Choctaw Rejected” (MCR).
I sent off a request to NARA to obtain the file. After a month of waiting, a huge envelope arrived in the post. Inside were transcribed testimonies by Bettie and five of her children. The file was so rich with information, I was astonished. It revealed the names of Bettie’s parents and confirmed the names and ages of her children, their spouses, and their children. Four generations in one fell swoop! My grandfather was listed, along with his mother and five siblings. I found out when and how Bettie came to Mississippi as an enslaved nine-year-old child and information about her Yankee father and the white man who fathered her children. There was even a physical description of what she looked like.
DNA eventually proved that Bettie did not have Native American blood; her maternal line was African. That became irrelevant in light of all the other amazing information I learned about her. In all my years of research, this document set was by far the most valuable I have ever found.
The funeral cards for my great great-grandparents, H.A. Seeger and Francisca Ladenkotter, were handed down to my grandpa (he never met Francisca and wasn’t quite two years old when H.A. died).
H.A. was born in what became part of Germany, as were Francisca’s parents. They settled in a neighborhood filled with other Germans, where they and their children lived and worked in a building that still stands.
Francisca died in 1916. One side of her card is printed in German, in that hard-to-read Gothic script. H.A. died in 1923, after the anti-German sentiment of World War I contributed to the changing of German-sounding street names and the closure of German-language newspapers. His funeral card features a picture on the reverse. To me, the cards are a symbol of my family’s heritage and our part in the history of a vibrant community.
When you have been a genealogist for more than 25 years, it is difficult to choose one document that reveals something telling about an ancestor’s life. However, there is an international money order receipt found by my cousin, Jack, in family papers that holds special meaning.
This treasured slip of paper documents that my paternal grandfather, John Alzo, who worked as a steelworker in America, sent money back to his parents in Slovakia so his father could purchase land. In 2012, my cousin and I were photographed standing in front of a parcel of that land still owned by the family.
One of the most illuminating genealogical discoveries I’ve made in recent years was a digitized newspaper article from England published in 1908. It not only provided the answers I was seeking regarding the untimely death of one of my husband’s ancestors, it also had a lasting effect on my genealogical research. It brought to light vital newspaper research strategies that I now use on a regular basis.
Looking Beyond Known Names
I noticed that while the woman in question was named in full, she was also referred to as “Mrs. Cooke”. So I omitted her first name and ran searches under “Mrs. Cooke” and “Mrs. Cook.” The results were a fresh batch of additional articles on her and the family. In one article about “Mrs. Cooke,” her son Raymond was referred to as “Master Cooke.” You guessed it: even more articles existed under that name as well.
Going Beyond People
I also noted that the original article listed the family’s street address. So I headed back to the search box and searched on the address alone. The results were a kind of “house history,” revealing previous inhabitants, activities while they lived there, and who moved in after the family left. One article, listing the address for sale several years before they owned it, included a detailed description of the property. Another article detailed the contents of their household that were up for auction in anticipation of their emigration to Canada in 1912.
After the thrill of the initial find, it was mesmerizing to watch additional discoveries unfold from the clues held within the article.
Begin Uploading Documents to Your Family Tree!
Collecting documents that reveal ancestors’ stories enriches your family legacy – and it’s never been easier! Upload files to FamilySearch’s Memories Gallery to preserve family tree artifacts forever. The genealogy documents you share will be cherished by relatives – today and in future generations.