Your Guide to Locating and Using Diaries, Letters, Personal Papers and Other Home Manuscript Sources

Whether in an attic or an archives, published or handwritten on brittle paper, there is nothing like the joy of finding a contemporaneous document that bears on your ancestor's life. Most such documents are created by an organizational entity the church, local government, military or courts. Sometimes however, we can unearth a privately created document.

These papers are often discarded, destroyed or lost over time, but those that survive tend to be in one of three places: in the hands of a family member or friend, in the hands of strangers or safely housed in an appropriate repository. Because they contain historical information, many such documents have been published and now are being posted on the internet.

Articles on finding and using manuscript sources.

Finding what has remained in the family...

Finding what is in the hands of strangers...

  • Search either of the two boards mentioned above for words such as "diary" "letters" or "photographs" -- sometimes people who find a diary post a query there.
  • E-Bay: try adding the words "antique" or "old" to diary, journal, bible, letters, etc.

Finding Diaries

Finding Diaries and other papers that have been published or put online

Publishing a Diary ...

The Diary of Louise B. Hancock has been carefully researched and supplemented with contemporary sources. It is a beautiful example of how a diary can be presented in a way that makes it come to life.

The Diary of Martha Ballard is used to illustrate a number of lessons on finding and using diaries.

Finding material in trusted repositories

See my separate page on Archives.


Bible Records are treated separately on this site.


This page last updated August 25, 2009
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