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Unusual Primary Sources for your Family History

We are all accustomed to looking at the standard records of birth, death, marriage and census when constructing a family tree, but these only really ever provide a framework for a family history. Although this sort of record will give you the basics of when someone was born or what they did for work when the census was taken, there are lots of other records which are easily overlooked and which can also help fill in gaps between census.

Finding Unexpected Family History Sources


One really interesting source which I came across recently were these two documents which appeared in a bag of donated goods in the charity shop where I volunteer. During the Second World War, it was compulsory for everyone to carry an ID card, and National Registration Identity Cards were given to everyone, even children. The system was not abandoned until 1952. Different groups had different coloured cards; children’s cards were brown, adult cards were initially yellow and later green, people in the Armed Forces or refugees had blue cards. The other document was a ration book, issued by the Ministry of Food in 1953. Rationing came to an end that year, so it’s perhaps no surprise that only one page of the book appears to have been used.

The ration book was issued to Edith A Menzies of 4 Kelso Street, Glasgow. The identity card was for Margaret J Menzies, of the same address. So what can we find out about these two people and how they were related?

One of the least-used – and potentially most valuable – records in Scotland is the Valuation Rolls. These are hosted on Scotland’s people and are lists of owners and tenants of property. Although there is a charge for looking at the full entry, the index entry usually gives you everything you need to know, free of charge. Searching the 1940 Roll for the surname Menzies in the county of Lanarkshire threw up a match for an Edward Hugh Menzies, living at 4 Kelso Street. Was he a relative of the two females named on the documents? Knowing also that the identity card was for a child, I searched for a birth of Edith A Menzies in Scotland, sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. That turned up Edith Anna Menzies, born in 1937 in Govan. Although no mother’s maiden name was given on Edith Anna’s birth index listing, I then checked for a death – and this is where Scottish records come into their own as women are indexed under their birth surname as well as the name they died under. Edith Anna Menzies’ death record confirmed her mother’s maiden name as Cousin.

This further piece of information allowed me to search for a marriage between a male Menzies and a female Cousin, which led to the marriage of Edward Hugh Menzies and Margaret Cousin in 1934, and to look for other births born to a Menzies, maiden name Cousin. That revealed the final part of the puzzle, a birth for Margaret Joan Menzies in 1935, sister to Edith Anna.

So from two documents which are not obvious starting points for genealogy, we have enough information to construct an entire family tree for the two Menzies sisters. What documents might you have overlooked in your own family records?

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