Military Ephemera Treasures Online

Military ephemera outside of photographs are abundant and located at many research libraries and other facilities across the United States.  Familiarizing yourself with historical collections and the finding aids online at many places can make all the difference in conducting a successful search for a military ancestor.

Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss shares his recommendations for military ephemera sources to find genealogy treasures. 

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was created to serve the Congress of the United States. As explained last month in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode #161, it serves as the national library of the United States. The library has millions of individual entries of photographs, film, letters, journals, diaries, and other primary material of interest to genealogists.

One research room also located in the James Madison building and open weekdays has more than 17 million books, maps, films, manuscripts, and photographs. The Prints and Photograph Division is located in the James Madison building and open weekdays and Saturdays from 8:30 AM to 5 PM. This room has in their custody more than 50,000 manuscripts available to the public. Searches in the online collection and finding aids can be found online at

United States Army Heritage & Education Center

Another excellent source of other military ephemera located outside of Washington, DC can be found as part of the United States Army Heritage and Education Center.  It is located in Carlisle, PA and has an online search catalog for manuscripts, journals, diaries, and letters covering multiple war periods. The center has an online finding aid catalog to aid researchers to find materials in their collections available at

Additional Sources

Many historical societies and genealogical societies offer material that isn’t available anywhere else. Additionally, local State Archives and Libraries should be searched for ephemera in their own collections. Here are a few great resources for finding outside materials online:

Archive Grid
This database of entries include more than 5 million records of archival materials, not only supplying the name of the repository, but the scope of the collections searched. Their material online can be searched at

This is the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and formally part of the Genealogy Society of Utah. It is home to millions of genealogy records that are all available for free. Searches can be done online at 

Hathi Trust
This is a collaborative effort of repositories and libraries that have digitized their books and manuscripts online. Begin searching at

World Cat
The world’s largest library catalog of listings from tens of thousands of libraries located in multiple counties around the world. Visit 

Also listed as the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. It is affiliated with the Library of Congress and promotes the access to the heritage of the United States. Searches can be done online: 

Here are some examples of military ephemera treasures I’ve found:

Above left: Lt. Washington Brua- Courtesy of the Lebanon County Historical Society in Lebanon, PA. Above right: Pvt. John H. Waltz- Courtesy of the United States Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA. Images supplied by Michael Strauss.

Pennsylvania Civil War Muster Rolls, 1860-1869 ( Entry includes 2 pages; just the left side is shown here.

Pennsylvania Veteran Burial Cards, 1777-2012 (

Any family historian knows that a little genealogical kindness goes a long way! We as researchers wouldn’t be able to discover these treasures if it weren’t for others sharing their finds and resources. Take a moment to share this article with anyone who may be searching for military ancestors and you just might make someone’s day!

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

2 Unusual Genealogy Sources to Watch for at the Archives

These two unusual genealogy sources may unlock secrets to your family history research! The Archive Lady Melissa Barker shares tips for finding and using these two little-known types of original manuscripts that you may find tucked away in an archive. 

Two unusual genealogy sources you may be missing out on

Census records, check. You’ve got them. Obituaries, birth records, death certificates, city directories….check, check, check. Scrap paper and orphaned documents….What? When’s the last time you put these on a checklist of genealogical sources to search?

Scrap paper–anything from receipts to notes to tickets–may contain scraps of your family history. In fact, here at Genealogy Gems, we blogged awhile back about a major family revelation that occurred simply because a researcher came across a train ticket receipt from 1856. And “orphaned documents” are any types of original documents that archivists come across, but don’t seem to belong to any particular collection. Meaning, they’ve been separated from their historical context, or “orphaned.”

3 places to find scrap paper and orphaned documents in archives

1. Vertical file collections

The majority of the time, scrap paper and orphaned documents in archives get filed in Vertical File Collections that are cataloged by surname or subject name. As I’ve written previously, vertical files (or subject files as they are sometimes called) can be found in most state and local archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries and even in some museum collections. These files are simply collections of documents and ephemera that are put in file folders which are then put in filing cabinets and cataloged by surname or subject. They’re sometimes a filing location of last resort for anything that should be kept but doesn’t really “go” anywhere. And often, vertical files may be cataloged by subject but their individual contents probably aren’t.

2. Manuscript collections

Scrap papers and orphaned documents are also sometimes found in individual manuscript collections. Sometimes archivists will include scrap paper and orphan documents in a manuscript collection if they can determine the family or organization it belongs to. The scrap paper and orphan documents will be listed in the finding aid and usually referred to as “miscellaneous documents.”

In the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #149, I shared tips for visiting archives and doing research in original manuscript collections. Anytime you visit a library or archive that may have collections relevant to your family, ask to see their finding aids (which describe their collections). Scan descriptions for your family’s surname, ethnicity, occupations, where they went to school and church and other details you know about them.

3. Loose records.

Another place scrap paper and orphan documents can be found are in loose records, usually in contained in file folders entitled “Miscellaneous Documents” or “Orphan Records.” Again, ask whether you’re allowed to dig through these or at least look over any finding aids that describe their loose record collections. Digging through loose pieces of paper can be a treasure hunt. Even if what you discover doesn’t directly relate to your family, there are so many fascinating bits of history in loose records!

This little piece of scrap paper may have had important implications for those mentioned in it—can you decipher the charming spelling?

Learn more about researching with original records

Even though so much can be found, it’s true that not everything is online. To learn the most about your family history, you sometimes need to visit archives, libraries and other repositories. This is actually quite fun, especially when you discover unusual genealogy sources such as these! Click here to read more articles from The Archive Lady about researching in archives.

Images courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives.

About the Author: Melissa Barker

About the Author: Melissa Barker

The Archive Lady

Melissa is a Certified Archives Records Manager, the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist and author of the popular blog A Genealogist in the Archives and an advice columnist. She has been researching her own family history for the past 27 years.

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