The Archive Lady: Always Check for Loose Records

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The Archive Lady: Always Check for Loose Records

Julie in Tennessee asks: “I found out that one of my ancestors committed a crime in 1890. I found the court case in the bound court minutes book, but it seems to be incomplete and doesn’t have all the information about the case. Are there any other court records that might be available that could help me find out the rest of the story?”

Julie asks a great question about court records that all of us as genealogists should be asking ourselves: “Is there more?” When conducting our genealogy research and we find records like Julie did in a bound record volume, we should be asking ourselves what else could be available. Many times, the answer to our question is found in Loose Records.

This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shares the secrets of Loose Records at archives and repositories.
Loose Records, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

I define Loose Records as “the working papers of a particular event such as a court case, marriage and probate that are archived separately from the bound volumes.” Loose records can be a gold mine to those of us who have discovered that our ancestors were involved in a court case similar to Julie’s situation.

Loose records are processed and archived separately from the bound volumes. Archivists place them in file folders and boxes and archive them like they do a typical manuscript collection. The loose records for a court case could contain just about anything, including information that can tell a more complete story of what happened. These loose record files could contain affidavits, subpoenas, witness statements and other documents related to the event.

This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shares the secrets of Loose Records at archives and repositories.
Loose Records, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

In a probate case, the loose records could still be located in their original probate packets. These are tri-folded documents that are placed in sleeves for storage. Many archives process these records by flattening them, cleaning them and putting them in file folders for easier access and research. In a probate packet, information such as who is inheriting property and how the estate is being divided could be found. The information and documents that can be found in a probate loose record file could tell so much more of your ancestor’s story.

The best way to find out if an archive has loose records in their collections is to ask. This can be done by email, phone or while you are researching at the archives. If you find your ancestor in a bound record volume, ask the archivist if there are any loose records associated with the bound volumes. Another option is to check the archives website. Some archives are now starting to put indexes of their collections online, which includes loose records collections. They could be listed in the manuscript collection or listed as a separate collection in the index.

This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shares the secrets of Loose Records at archives and repositories.
Loose Probate Records, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Few loose records collections have been microfilmed or digitized. Many of our archives and genealogy databases are starting to realize the importance of these loose records and are starting to pay attention to them. In the new future, we may start seeing them become available online as digitized collections to research from home.

Loose records are one of my favorite collections to process in the archives as an archivist and to do research in as a genealogist. Genealogists like Julie who have found a piece of the puzzle in the bound record volumes should seek out the loose records to help tell the rest of the story.

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

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