Tuesday, February 16, 2021

52 Ancestors - UNUSUAL SOURCE: Check the Historical Society

When it comes to the “UNUSUAL” in genealogy research, the best place to find it is in a historical society. More often than not, it will be the lucky recipient of family papers, photo albums, and scrapbooks that people don’t know what to do with when a family member dies.

As a volunteer with the Greene County Historical Society in Stanardsville, Virginia, I have completed several indexing projects that could be beneficial to many researchers who trace their lineage to early families in Greene County.

For example, the Early Family scrapbooks contain greeting cards, newspaper clippings, funeral memorial cards, school and church programs collected by Mrs. Early for over 50 years. She saved any tidbit related to her family, her extended family, her distant family, friends, and neighbors. While my line and hers do not intersect, I found several news articles that mentioned my relatives. One article even had a photo that gave me my first look at the woman who had been explicitly denied any inheritance from her husband’s father, my great-grandmother’s brother. She looked like a sweet lady, hardly the gold-digging shrew depicted in the will. One interesting newspaper article Mrs. Early saved told me the story about Seal, a dog that “attended” the University of Virginia. I recalled my dad telling about Seal but did not remember the significance until I read the story.

The Price-Hill Daybooks are a record of the general store’s daily sales. Every page lists the names of customers, what they purchased, the cost of each item, and how they paid offering clues to the daily life of the citizens and their economics. Probably learning that someone bought Lyons Kathairon which supposedly cured baldness or they were in need of more Mexican Mustang Liniment is a bit like peering into someone’s bedroom, but the purchases tell a story. There are also genealogical clues to be found in the day books. For example, one entry shows Thomas Gordon as “guardian of Frances Gordon.” Some customers sent their “boy” or their “girl” to pick up an order. Since there are entries including “son” and “daughter,” I believe these designations indicate a servant.  

Inside cover

The Hamm Daybooks are 15 years of records kept by the local tailor Joseph H. Hamm from 1856-1871. What an amazing social history revealing who was having a coat repaired, who was ordering clothes for a wedding, who needed a frock, and even who needed new underwear! The selected fabrics and trims hint at the customer’s personal economics and social status. 

While none of my Jolletts seemed to have been Mr. Hamm’s customers, a distant cousin George Sampson was. In March of 1863, he paid $1.00 to have a jeans coat cut. 

Page from the Hamm Daybooks
31 March 1863

My 3X great-grandfather’s brother Thomas Marshall paid Hamm $1.50 to make him a black velvet hat. Since the records cover the time of the Civil War, it is enlightening to read what work Hamm provided for Union soldiers in Virginia.

My 2X great-grandfather and his son Burton Lewis
registered to vote in 1902 

The Voter Registration Books in Greene County are full of genealogical details that go far beyond the date someone registered. A date of birth will be more accurate than one found in a census record or death certificate even because the information was supplied by the person himself, not an informant. Transfers in and out of a precinct are noted, usually along with the date. Occupations are listed as are removals from the rolls due to death. Sometimes the registrar added notes such as the father’s name, a nickname, or “brother of” to distinguish voters with similar names. I must admit, I was a bit surprised to learn my great-great grandfather James Franklin Jollett was 66 years old when he finally registered to vote. What took him so long? He might have been a bit slow, but his granddaughter Blanche Jollett Gentry and his granddaughter-in-law Mary Neville Peluso Jollett were among the first women to register when suffrage was at long last granted in 1920.

White Women - Husckstep Precinct of Monroe District
Blanche Gentry was 30 years old.

White Women - Husckstep Precinct of Monroe District
Mary Neville Peluso Jollett was 24

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. You are so lucky to have found ancestors in these unusual sources housed in local historical societies!

  2. Great post! Lots of great information!

  3. Fantastic sources, thanks for sharing.

  4. Haha! In my case I have all of the scrapbooks that need to be donated to the historical society.

  5. It's wonderful to know there are records similar to these in historical society collections around the U.S. I wish I lived close enough to the locations of my ancestors to visit the societies and take a look.
    A year or so ago we stopped in an upscale, upcycle flea market kind of store. On the floor leaning against a table I noticed some ledgers. When I lifted one to look inside I was surprised to see that they were from a doctor's office in the 1960s and 1970s with names, procedures, and amounts charged. I was really surprised considering today's privacy acts. They were a little mildewy but I hope someone who was a genealogist took them home and is transcribing them.

  6. Those added little tidbits are such fun things to find. When I visited a historical society in Georgia last year, I asked them what their most unusual "record" was. The volunteer got very excited and ran to the back room. I wasn't prepared for what he brought out. He brought out a super old prosthetic LEG!! He had no idea who it had belonged to, so I'm not sure what purpose it served other than just being unusual.