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The Value of Old Junk

When you are cleaning out an attic or garage for a yard sale or after the passing of a loved one, before you get rid of anything, look at it with a researcher's eye. Many heirlooms and keepsakes hold clues to your family's history, so be careful to record information before selling it or throwing it away. When you come to a dead end in your research, something you have written down from this spring cleaning may come in handy to give you your next lead.

Some of the most valuable pieces of family history come from old books. Check the front covers for names and dates-when books were first being published, it was very common to print your name in it, since they were valuable but often lent to friends. Bibles are extremely useful, as most were given as gifts when a child was baptized, for their first communion, or otherwise inducted into the church as a member. Bibles and other religious books are common things to pass down through the generations as well, so multiple names and birth dates or death dates might be recorded, as well as church membership information. If all else fails, at least you can deduce that your ancestors were of a certain religion.

Clothing is another good way to find clues to your family's past. You may be able to get a better visual description of a particular ancestor this way, making it easier to identify them in photographs. Check the tags for names, although this is a more modern practice. If you find military uniforms, this will tell you to search military records of a certain time period for your ancestors. Take notice to any special insignia or medals with the uniform in order to help you confirm facts.

Furniture and other homemade wooden items also provide clues. Check all of the drawers, and behind them, for old papers and look on the bottom of the piece for the name of the maker and date. Although this person may or may not be someone in your family, it will give you an idea of time period and the name of a person in your family's community. His ancestors may be worth contacting, because if they are also doing family history research, they may have come across your surname in sources you have not yet accessed.

Finally, look for pieces that were engraved, such as jewelry. Although this may not give you much more than a name and date, you may find this information invaluable when fact checking at a later point in your research. In general, take note of your old junk before disregarding it and you may be happy you did later in your research.

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