Have you made use of your American Memory? This Internet site, created and managed by the United States Library of Congress, makes available a variety of alternative records that can help to round out your ancestor’s lives. These records are arranged in a variety of collections through which you can browse and search.
I first stumbled across the site while searching for on-line information regarding my own ancestors. A web search found photographs of their homes in the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) collection. For each building, the record may contain photographs (inside and out), and a report on the building and its history. The report may include all of the owners (up to the time of the report), when it was built, additions to it, and historical people and events connected to it, among other things.
In addition to these architectural records, you might also be interested in the manuscripts, photographs, sound and motion picture recordings, or other documents that are on-line. Some documents that are not yet on-line are identified and can be accessed at specific locations. Other documents are transcripts rather than the original text images.
Of interest to long-time California families might be the “California, First-Person Narratives” collection, covering first-person narratives from 1849 to 1900.
Update January 2020: Most of the collections in the American Memory site have been migrated to other presentations.
[First appeared in The Beacon, January/February 2008.]