Skeletons in the Closet

By The History Detectives Team
3 August 2009
Category: DIY Investigations

Researching a person often leads to surprising and exciting revelations.

You can use the same techniques and sources of information that we use on History Detectives to carry out your investigation.

Firstly, find out the basics about your person. For example, what is their name, when were they born and where? If you do not have access to this sort of information you can try a birth or death records search, which should give you more details that you can use a springboard for your investigation. You can find these records in your local municipality’s holdings, or use an online resource such as Think outside the box as sometimes the person you are looking for is listed under another name, or the surname is spelled differently.

We recommend using the internet to see what records are available before you visit in person, especially in large cities where huge quantities of records are kept and information is hard to get on the phone. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has an interesting section on their website that explains how to find birth/death records for all 50 states.

Your next port of call should be public records; these are very helpful if you are looking at a person who died more than 50 years ago. This is because records older than 50 years are now part of the public domain, whereas you will need your subject’s approval if you are researching records or documents younger than 50 years.

Census records are another useful source if you know, or can guess, where your person lived. It is very convenient that the United States is the only country that maintains in it’s constitution that a census of the population be taken every ten years. These records are kept in government archives around the country and online and they date all the way back to 1790!

You should now have a pretty good idea about the basic background of your person. It’s now time to try and re-create your person’s life by using local historical and genealogical societies, or local historians. Even if you can’t find out the exact details of your person’s life, you can learn more about life in that town and period and begin to form a story about life at that time. Historical societies keep tons of information in their archives, including photos and deeds. You may be able to find photos of your person or perhaps you can find their name on a deed or in tax records.

Have you investigated a person? Do you have any tips? We would like to know. Let us know in the form below.


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