Course: 2024-20 – Records Loss: Overcoming Destroyed, Missing, or Non-Extant Records

Coordinator: Kelvin L. Meyers


We all face record loss. Whether the courthouse burned, the clerk tossed them, the relative, autograph hunter, lawyer, or surveyor took them, they succumbed to heat, humidity, insects, fading ink, war, or distance from the courthouse, which was a barrier to their creation – the records that we want – the records that could answer our questions aren’t there.

The solution: In many cases, it is possible to overcome the problem, but it requires diligence, perseverance, and willingness to look beyond the obvious.

Other Instructors:

Deborah A. Abbott, PhD
Sunny J. Morton
Kimberly T. Powell
Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL
Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA
Renate Yarborough Sanders
Kristi L. Sexton, MS
Michael L. Strauss, AG

Student Prerequisites:

This course is designed for the intermediate to advanced researcher. A solid understanding of genealogy basics is required to make use of the materials and concepts presented. Students must have experience using census, county records, land records, and general secondary records. Concepts addressed include research plans, DNA, religion, land, military, and manuscripts.

Recommendations: None

All times are listed in Eastern Time.
• Refer to your student’s Dropbox for the full schedule, including breaks. (Provided one week prior to the start of the course)
• Live sessions may be subject to schedule adjustments by your course coordinator.

Day Session Title Description Instructor

8:30 – 9:00 AM


 Introductions Take this opportunity to connect with your peers and gain insights into what exciting adventures await you this week.
Mon 1

9:00 – 10:15 AM

Are the Records Really Lost? Whether you go to a courthouse face to face, via mail, or utilize online records, you should recognize what you are searching for. Is it a marriage that you are searching for? Is it a birth or a death record? In any case, none of these are the most vital thing that you are searching for. You are searching for RELATIONSHIPS! Much of the time, you may never locate a correct birth or death date, regardless of whether the courthouse didn’t consume it, yet you can discover confirmation of connections. Meyers

10:45 – 12:00 PM

Gathering the Records: Published Records and Census When beginning your research strategy for dealing with record loss in a county, one of the first things you must do is locate everything in print on the county. Documented books with footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies can lead you to lesser-known sources that may be pertinent to your research. What other sources are available to help you deal with the record loss? Meyers

1:30 – 2:45 PM

Collateral Relatives: Your FFA Your ancestors’ Family, Friends, and Associates are very important to your research. Our ancestors did not live a solitary life. They lived, loved, hated, sued, were sued, and died within a particular group. His community of kinship is very important. Locating these people may be the only way to get to your ancestor and the questions concerning him. The methodology of neighbors and clusters of people can be very helpful when you understand how the research is conducted. Meyers

3:15 – 4:30 PM

Your Research Plan The probability of having a successful research project is greatly enhanced when the project begins with a precise statement of research goals and reasoning for the process. Creating a research plan is a wise way to start any research project. It provides an opportunity to assess the hurdles and the possibilities of successful research fully. Meyers
Tue 5

9:00 – 10:15 AM

Filling the Gaps with Law When flood, fire, or other disaster results in catastrophic record loss, we can use federal and state laws to help fill the gaps in an ancestor’s story. Public laws help tell the story of all people at a time and place, while private laws were passed for the benefit of individuals or families. Russell

10:45 AM- 12:00 PM

After the Courthouse Burns: Rekindling Family History through DNA Catastrophic record loss due to fires and disasters at courthouses is a fact of life for genealogists. When a disaster takes out birth, marriage, death, court, land, and probate records all in one fell swoop, it may still be possible to light our family’s research fires – to rekindle our interest in our ancestral roots – using DNA evidence. Russell

1:30 – 2:45 PM

Tax Records Substituting Land and Probate Records Because tax lists were often kept at the state level, they are a goldmine of sources for a county with a record loss. You can determine when an ancestor comes of age and estimate the time of death of an ancestor. They give us the location where our ancestors lived and who the neighbors were. Meyers

3:15 – 4:30 PM

Researching in Federal Land Records Federal land records can provide valuable information in cases of missing records. They are stored at the National Archives and have not been subject to loss in courthouse fires and other disasters. These land records can provide information for ancestors beyond the details of the land transactions. Sayre
Wed 9

9 – 10:15 AM

How U.S. Church Records Can Be a Saving Grace When there’s record loss (or records were never created in the first place), church records may be your salvation. Church records (which weren’t typically kept at courthouses) wouldn’t have been affected by most disasters at courthouses. Church records may have existed well before civil vital records were kept reliably, and they can be much more inclusive, with names of women, children, members of minority ethnic or language groups, poor people, and those who were enslaved. Learn about these records and strategies for finding them. Morton

10:45 AM – 12:00 PM

In Their Own Words: Slave Narratives Uncovering the genealogy of formerly enslaved persons can be challenging, but sometimes, this information is revealed in first-hand accounts, commonly known as “Slave Narratives.” From books written by or about persons once enslaved to projects set up to learn about life during slavery, researchers will discover an abundance of genealogical and historical information about enslaved families, their enslavers, and the communities they lived in – straight from the mouths of the Ancestors. Sanders

1:30 – 2:45 PM

Records of the Freedman’s Bureau: There’s Something for Everyone Though the nickname “Freedmen’s Bureau” suggests a singular focus on formerly enslaved freed persons, this class highlights the diversity of information about persons of all backgrounds – black and white – that are included in the records of this government entity. The wide-ranging records of The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands often fill in gaps of missing genealogical and historical information and should be included in the exhaustive research of anyone studying ancestors in America during the Antebellum and Reconstruction eras. Sanders

3:15 – 4:30 PM

Using Manuscript Collections in Genealogical Research Manuscript records are often overlooked but may be just the fertilizer needed to fill those empty family tree branches. Manuscripts can be found in a variety of repositories, i.e., libraries, historical societies, universities, and private collections. They may also be found in repositories far away from your ancestral home. Learn how to find and apply these records to enhance the success of your genealogy research. Abbott
Thu 13

9:00 – 10:15 AM

Reconstructing the Past: Understanding Military Record Loss Fires and other catastrophic events have destroyed valuable military records in the government’s custody. Understanding what records were lost and knowing where to search other sources, including burnt files, reconstructed files, auxiliary files, and records of the treasury, interior, and state department records, can provide answers to missing documents. Strauss

10:45 AM – 12:00 PM

Using Fraternal and Lineage Society Records to Reconstruct Families Records of fraternal and lineage organizations and their female auxiliaries cover many years in many different residential areas. These records can help genealogists learn valuable clues about their ancestors, including birth, marriages, death, and names of their descendants, especially where local government sources have experienced significant record loss. Strauss

1:30 – 2:45 PM

Digging for Dirt Using Newspaper Research Looking in newspapers can fill in gaps in research with lost records, as well as enrich the story that is already known. Using newspapers can help give clues and a starting point to missing data, people, and places that can be more thoroughly flushed out with further research. Learn how to fill in some of those missing pieces by utilizing these rich resources to fill in where traditional records often cannot. Sexton

3:15 – 4:30 PM

Class Assignment Land transactions weren’t mere business deals; they were milestones marking family events, alliances, and migrations. This session focuses on extracting meaningful genealogical insights from land records to reveal relationships, reconstruct family stories, and fill voids when other records are unavailable. Meyers
Fri 17

9:00 – 10:15 AM

From Lots to Lineage: Land as Genealogy’s Lasting Legacy The class will be assigned to create a research plan for a fictional client whose ancestors seem to have always lived in a county with record loss. Powell

10:45 AM – 12:00 PM

Solution The class will present their research plans for class critique. Meyers