By Sheila Benedict

If you want to find out more about your ancestors aside from names, dates and places, consider checking out old receipts, memberships, and other documents that can give insight into who those people were, what they liked and disliked, and how they lived.

Think about the following non-traditional items to become the family anthropologist, if you will. Handle items carefully, make copies of old newspapers on acid-free paper, and store everything in conservation or preservation containers. Consider collecting these items, related to yourself or your ancestors:

  • Bank statements and/or a blank, voided check
  • Old love letters, and letters of any kind
  • Receipts from markets, department or discount stores (dated)
  • Vehicle registrations
  • Expired passport or travel photos and maps
  • All types of legal papers: court, land, tax, etc.
  • Catalog pages to show what was “in” during your lifetime
  • Animals’ registration certificates or vet bills
  • Raffle and lottery tickets
  • Warranty booklets
  • Newspaper headlines and articles (be sure to cite name of publication, date and page number)
  • Coin or stamp collection information (such as a sheet from an appraisal book)
  • Diplomas, degrees, certificates, etc.
  • Union membership book, club membership cards and/or a list of offices held
  • Maps and historical data from all places in which you lived
  • Calendars and/or old date books (just a few pages are enough)
  • Invitations to special events
  • Videotape of family, audio or CD of family history
  • Political memorabilia from all parties
  • Baby books, birth announcements, lock of baby hair, etc.
  • List of friends and family/business partners
  • TV Guide/page from newspaper
  • List of books you read that you liked, and a list of those you didn’t like
  • Likes and dislikes in music/art/movies/clothing
  • Holiday cards with handwritten notes
  • Funeral handouts
  • Internet and email information
  • Something personal to only you
  • Enjoy the journey.

If you have questions, please send them to so they can be will be answered in future issues.


Sheila Benedict is a professional forensic and family genealogist. She is the author of “Research in California,” which she wrote in 2015 for the National Genealogical Societies Research in the States series.