Employment, Business & Other Institutional Records


These records are not as easily available as, for instance, census, land, and probate records, so genealogists often overlook them during their research. Many businesses did not bother keeping their records and fewer have offered them for publication.

However, one of Janna's friends found the Polish hometown of her ancestor named in the records for a School for the Deaf. That same friend found great amounts of useful information in the records of West Point Academy. Janna was able to trace one of her ancestors from Western Maryland, through several counties, back to Baltimore using railroad records. She found a photograph of one of her ancestors in a vaudeville yearbook. Another friend bought a book on E-Bay of records of a life insurance company that mentioned her ancestor.

Daybooks or account books for a local business may have survived that mentions purchases your ancestor made or services he required. The name and residence of a photographer may appear on a picture of your ancestor, pinpointing him at a place in time. You may then find the photographer’s studio listed in a city directory.

Some churches keep lists of members joining, participating in, and leaving the congregation. Fraternal organizations and other society records may be available. Schools kept lists of teachers, pupils, and sometimes the grades students earned.

Many genealogical periodicals have been publishing business records, for example, funeral home records.

You may be surprised to learn that many businesses have a history department, or archives in which they keep memorabilia. A special appointment may be necessary to view selected items.

Social Security records, though only available since 1935, have an abundance of information. The applicants needed to prove their birth in order to collect. Life insurance records contain much family information, including names, ages, health, names of next of kin, and residences. Railroad employees usually had their own retirement system.

Help Me!  Check whether business records are available at a major library.

Help Me!  Check whether business records have been published in a genealogical periodical.

Help Me!  Check whether Social Security records are available for my ancestor.

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.