5 Steps to Digitizing Your Old Negatives

5 Steps to Digitizing Your Old Negatives

Do you have old family photo negatives in your closet? You may be wondering, “can I still get my old negatives printed into photos? What should I do with these old negatives?” To answer questions like these, we’ll need to think through your goals, budget and resources. Follow these 5 steps to digitizing old negatives and soon you may be looking at your family history in a new way!

5 steps to digitizing old negatives

Don’t Let Your Old Negatives Languish Like I Did

Having just gone through the process of getting my old family negatives digitized, I’m excited to share with you what I learned along the way.

In my case, I inherited photos and negatives from my paternal grandmother. I’m embarrassed to say how long they’ve been languishing in the guest room closet.

After having amazing success getting my maternal grandmother’s old home movies digitized (you can read more about that and listen to the podcast episode here), I became determined to finally address these items. It was time to see just what these negatives were and get them digitized and preserved. I  couldn’t be happier that I did! 

Here’s just one example of the negatives. This one is actually two photos in a medium size format. Though I’ve never seen these images before,  I was pretty sure that the bottom picture was my dad and his little sister in the 1950s.

old photo negatives that need digitizing

After professional scanning, I can fully enjoy this image:

digitized scan of an old negative

Getting these photos digitized has given me the opportunity to collect so many more family stories, like the one my Dad told me about the photo above when I emailed it to him:

“That was our FIRST TV, my mom had to have the large cabinet, I’m sure you understand that.  Black and white only of course.  I was about 12 years old, so that’s about 1951.  First TV I ever saw was when my dad took me to his friend’s house and we watched wrestling. We got one not long after that. The first kids program I recall was Howdy Doody.”

Are you ready to finally digitize your old negatives? Here are my 5 Steps to Digitizing Your Old Negatives:

1. Consider Your Budget Before Digitizing Old Negatives

If you’re on a limited budget, you might be tempted to just do the scanning yourself with a home desktop scanner. While that may sound like a cost-effective option, it may turn out to be problematic in the long run. Here are several reasons why:

Home film scanners are an investment.

If you have an older scanner, it may not be suited to digitizing negatives. This means you’ll need to invest in a new flatbed scanner. While these days scanners like mine (the Epson Perfection V600) can scan film as well as documents, you still may not get the clarity and quality a professional service can deliver.

Scan quality can vary.

Scanning on your own puts your images at risk for being unclear. It can also be difficult to get them to a high enough resolution that they can be enlarged beyond their original size.

Negatives should be scanned between 1500-4000 dpi, with 4000 being optimum. Professional services like the one I used can reach these numbers, but it’s very important to ask exactly what the output will be when ordering. I get all my negatives digitized by Larsen Digital where I can select the desired scan size and I know I’ll consistently get the highest quality scan possible. Visit Larsen Digital here where you’ll also find their latest discounts exclusive to Genealogy Gems readers. For a limited time negatives are discounted with the coupon code: GenGem.

Digitizing negatives can be deceivingly time consuming.

Time spent carefully scanning is time not spent doing other things you love. And digitizing your negatives can only go as fast as your scanner can scan. Confirm the scanning time of any scanner you’re considering using and evaluate the quantity of negatives you have.

In my case, I have a fair number of negatives of various ages and sizes. Once they are digitized I don’t anticipate that I’ll have a need to scan more negatives in the future. Therefore buying a new scanner and dedicating desk space to it was not appealing.

Since my negatives were old family photos, I wanted to ensure that they were done right, so I opted for professional digitizing. In the end the financial investment was about the same. However professional scanning won hands down when it came to the quality of the scans and the time and space I saved. I would rather spend time researching my ancestors than scanning their negatives!

Keep reading because our next steps will help you keep your costs down while still getting your negatives professionally digitized. 

2. Make Three Piles to Separate Your Negatives

Since we want to get our negatives digitized in the most cost-effective way it’s important to take a moment to identify which negatives are worth digitizing. We’re going to sort our negatives into three piles:

Pile #1: Digitize

These are the negatives you are going to send to the professional scanning service.

Pile #2: Archive

These are the negatives you want to keep, but don’t plan to digitize.

Pile #3: Throw / Give Away

These are the negatives not worth keeping. (Yes, there are some you don’t need to keep!) It certainly couldn’t hurt to send out an email blast to your family members to see if anyone is interested in keeping them. If not, toss!

As you can see, not all negatives are alike. So let’s head to step three and let’s start sorting in a discerning way.

3. Determine if You Already Have Photographic Prints of Your Negatives

Since digitizing photographs is generally less expensive than digitizing negatives, you will want to check to see if you already have a photo printed from the negative. This means it’s time to take a closer look at your negatives.

Here are just a few easy and low-cost options for viewing your negatives:

Do it the old-fashioned way.

Hold the negative up to a lamp. 

Use your phone or tablet.

Here are two simple options:

1) Turn on your phone’s flashlight feature and then turn your phone around to face you and hold the negative in front of it.  

2) Use a free app to turn your phone’s screen into a light box.

I downloaded the free Screen Light to my iPhone which is also available on Android. Open the app and adjust the setting to maximum “White” and “Light.” You can then hold your negative in front of it or even lay it on the screen.

I reviewed my pile which included negatives from my own family as well as the ones my grandmother gave me.  I knew I had prints of all the color negative strips of the family I raised. In fact, in many cases I had double prints! (Remember the days of the double print developing?)

In the case of the negatives I inherited from my grandmother, I wasn’t so sure that I had photos of everything. The photos were probably printed when the negatives were developed, but I didn’t necessarily inherit all of the photos.

I carefully combed through my collection, making sure that I didn’t lose the context of the order in which they came to me. I knew there was a good chance that they may have been at least somewhat in chronological order. That can be valuable information when it comes time for labeling the digitized files.

Consider purchasing some acid-free negative sleeves or envelopes like these so that you not only have a place to safely store them but you can also make notes about important details you notice and whether or not you have prints, etc.  (Disclosure: We include affiliate links in our posts for the products we suggest. The compensation we receive if you make a purchase helps support articles like this one and the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. Thank you!)

In the end you will have a pile of negatives that you do have prints of, and a pile that you do not.

4. Select the Best Negatives and Photos to be Scanned

Now that you have reviewed your negatives, let’s make decisions about which negatives and photos will be scanned.

If you do have a photograph of the negative:

Determine if the photo is in better condition than the negative for digitizing. Again, photos are usually less expensive to digitize than negatives.

Typically, the negative will be in better condition, however over the years they may have been smudged or scratched, so a careful review is worth the effort.

If the photo happens to be in better condition than the negative, your next decision will be what to do with the negative that you will not be digitizing.

If the negative is in good condition and is an image of particular importance to you, put it in the Archive pile.

If the negative is not in good condition, and therefore not likely to ever need to be reprinted from the negative again, drop it in the Throw /Give Away pile. I know it’s hard to do, but the storage space you save can be used for other more important things.

If the photo has some flaws and the negative is in better condition, put the negative in the Digitize pile. You may still want to keep the photo for an album or display, but your digitized image will be created from the better quality negative.

If the printed photo is the item in better shape, but it still has some flaws, don’t fret. These days you can dramatically and easily improve the digitized scan of the photo with the free Adobe Fix app on your phone or tablet. Click the play button on the video player below to watch my short demonstration video:


Learn more about photo restoration on mobile devices in my book Mobile Genealogy available in the Genealogy Gems store. 

mobile genealogy book

My book “Mobile Genealogy” includes step by step instructions on using Adobe Fix.

5. Send Your Old Negatives in for Professional Scanning

Now that you have organized a pile of negatives ready for digitization, it’s time to send them out to a professional scanning company.

I sent mine to Larsen Digital. I’ve met them in person and have been impressed with the quality of their work, and the incredibly wide variety of digitization work they can do.

Visit the Larsen Digital website here. This page has special discounts specifically for Genealogy Gems readers. Click on Negatives and you’ll find many options. I was thrilled to see that they could accommodate the variety of negatives I have like:

5 Steps to Digitizing Old Negatives - medium format negative

Medium format black and white negative


You may be a little nervous about mailing your negatives. At first, I was too, but the Larsen staff assured me that their customers safely and routinely mail their negatives. The key is to use a shipping service with tracking. I picked up a small priority box at my local post office. It gave me a little room for a little extra padding inside and I received a tracking number so that I could follow it on the journey. FedEx is another reliable way to go. Larsen was excellent about tracking the incoming and outgoing order.

When the order is complete, you will first receive a link where you can instantly download your digital files. Soon after your original negatives will arrive in the mail exactly as you sent them. Mine even came back in my grandmother’s original envelopes!

Digitized Old negatives returned in their original envelope safe and sound

Digitized old negatives returned in their original envelope safe and sound!

The Results that Open Up a World of Family History

Needless to say, I am thrilled with the results of my digitization project! Many of the negatives are photos I have never seen before. (What in the world took me so long to get this done?!)

I just have to share a few examples with you. Here’s a photo of my great uncle proudly posing with his taxi cab in Ada, Oklahoma:

digitized image made from an old negative

My great uncle next to his taxi cab in Oklahoma

My grandmother was an avid doll collector, so I wasn’t surprised to see my aunt in this photo with dolls. I was surprised and delighted though to spot an important artifact on the wall that held a significance to my grandparents. The framed photo of a ship commemorates one of the many ships produced at the Kaiser shipyards during World War II. Both of my grandparents worked there during the war: my grandfather helped build the ships, and my grandmother worked in in the office assisting with hiring the men and women who worked alongside him. 

Great Grandma's house

My aunt at home in the 1950s.

Although this next one has some blurring around the edges due to the person who took the photo, I treasure this rare shot of my great grandmother, my grandmother and her siblings. 

An old negative digitized: The Herring family

The Herring Family: My great grandmother is on the far left, and my grandmother is next to and just behind her. 

A New View of Your Family History

Following these 5 steps for digitizing your old negatives will not only lead to new views of your family history, but ensure that your family history photos are preserved for generations to come. 

If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends. I can’t wait to hear in the Comments below the discoveries you make in your closets!

How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist

How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and expand your family history research.

better browsing ancestry checklist

In the past we’ve written about how to access browse-only content at Many readers said it opened a whole new world of genealogy records to them that they didn’t know they were missing. 

The good news is that FamilySearch is not alone in offering browse-only content. also has browse-only collections of digitized records. (Not an subscriber yet? Click here to learn more. This is an affiliate link and we are compensated if you make a purchase, which supports this free blog. Thank you!)

Knowing how to search and browse records effectively is critical because you shouldn’t just rely on hints. Ancestry, for example, only provides hints from about the top 10% of their most popular databases. That means if you only spend time on reviewing hints, you’re missing a massive amount of genealogical information available in all of the other records. 

Typically you’ll be using the search feature to find those other records. However not all records are searchable. That’s because after the long process of acquiring the rights to digitize and publish a genealogy record collection, it takes even longer to get them indexed for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, Ancestry doesn’t always make us wait to gain access to them until the indexing is complete.

The digital images are published without an index. This means they are not searchable by names and other keywords. Therefore, it can take some time to locate a record within one of these collections. But I think you’ll agree it’s more convenient to look through them from the comfort of your own home rather than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here’s your checklist for better browsing. 


While doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only or partially-indexed databases, it’s still very much worth the effort. 

1. Head to the Card Catalog

From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog. Card Catalog Search

2. Search and Filter

In the upper left corner you can search the catalog by title and / or keyword. However, if you know the type of record you are looking for, such as military records, the best place to start is filtering by that category. If the list is long, you can then search within that category by keywords. 

Ancestry card catalog filtering column

3. Determining if the Records are Searchable

If you don’t see a search box on the left side, then you can assume that this collection has not yet been indexed and therefore isn’t searchable by keywords and other data. Instead you will see typically see the source information box at the top.

browse only genealogy record collection at Ancestry


1. Browse This Collection Box

On the right side of the screen you will see a Browse this Collection box. The filtering options presented will depend on the way the collection is organized. 

Filter browse only genealogy record collection at Ancestry

In the case of the Nevada County Marriage database, a drop down menu allows you to filter by county.

2. Make a Selection

As you can see in my example, once I selected a county I can also filter down by record books. So even though you can’t search names, you can often zero in on the portion of the collection most relevant to your search.

filtering down browse only records at

Browse this Collection box



Once you have selected the available filters, you’ll find yourself in the digitized records. They are displayed in a filmstrip layout which will come in quite handy for navigation through the pages. 

Filmstrip navigation of genealogy records at

Navigation is crucial since we can’s search by names and keywords. Let’s take a closer look at the ways you can navigate:

browse navigation at

Browsing a digitized genealogy record collection at


Finding the Filmstrip

if you don’t see the filmstrip view, click the filmstrip icon:

Filmstrip View


Finding and Using the Original Index


WATCH THE BONUS VIDEO below to see the next section in action. Click on the sound button to the right of the play button to turn on the sound. 


Many records that were originally bound in books like this collection include index pages. In this book the index appears at the beginning. If you look closely at the filmstrip images it’s easy to spot where the index lists are and where the records begin. 

index pages and record pages

So even though Ancestry hasn’t had the chance to index the records yet, they are indexed in the book. This will make the job of browsing for the records you need even easier. 

The “About” box on the card catalog entry often includes important information about whether or not the collection has an index. One example of this is the Canada, Photographic Albums of Settlement, 1892-1917 record collection. It is a browse-only series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917. The collection description includes very useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” As you can see, taking a few extra moments to read about the collection can make browsing it much easier. 

Browse only database of Canadian records

Save Time When Browsing Between Volumes

Remember that Browse this Collection box on the right hand side of the card catalog entry page? (See the Browse this Collection box image 6 images above.) This handy menu is also embedded in the record viewer. If you need to switch to a different book, album or other portion of the collection, you don’t have to hit the back button and start over. Instead, at the top of the viewing page, click the volume or collection you are currently viewing (this appears as a sub-title under the main title of the collection.) A browse structure menu will appear showing you all the other options within the collection. Just click the one you want and you will be instantly switched over. Think of it as pulling a different volume of a series of books off the shelf!

Browse structure on viewer page at Ancestry

Switching volumes within the collection within the viewer.


Browsing Indexed Records

There will be times when even though a record collection is indexed, you may still want to browse it. Browsing isn’t just for unindexed records. Many genealogy gems can be found by browsing a database that you’ve already searched. You may spot neighbors of interest, other surnames from your family tree, and more. So even when you are working with a record collection that has a search box, look for the browsing option in the right column.

browse indexed records at Ancestry



The records most likely to not yet be indexed, and therefore browse-only, are the newest records added to Ancestry. If you’re looking to bust through a brick wall, here’s a great way to find the newest records that just might do it.

1. Go to the Card Catalog

From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog.

2. Sort the Records

In the right hand corner you’ll find a Sort By menu. Select Date Added

New Records at sorted by Date Added

Select Date Added from the Sort by menu.

3. Newest Record View

The Card Catalog will now be presented in the order in which the records were added. The newest records will appear at the top of the list.

4. Filter the List

Use the filters along the left side of the page to filter the collections by record type, location, and date. Then use the search boxes to target keywords. This will give you results that include your keyword starting with the newest collections.


Making a small investment of time in getting to know the search and browsing functions of a website can pay off big.

BONUS PDF: Click to download a handy ad-free PDF version of this article for easy reference: How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry

Here are three more articles and podcast episodes here at Genealogy Gems that can help you maximize your genealogy research efforts:


Please leave a comment below and share the genealogy gems that you uncover using these techniques. And of course if you have any questions, leave those as comments as well and I’ll reply.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 235

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 235

Federal court records are wonderful because they are so packed with genealogical information. But knowing which records are available and where to find them can sound daunting, and that stops many genealogists from ever tapping into them. In this episode our aim is to fix all that. Professional forensic genealogist Michael Strauss is here to pull back the curtain and introduce you to these valuable records.

You know Michael from our Military Minutes segments here on Genealogy Gems. He also recently introduced us to descendancy research on Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 174. The response to that episode was terrific. Many of you wrote in to say that it opened up a new avenue of research for you. This episode promises to do the same.

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
November 2019
Download the episode mp3

GEM: Federal Court Records with Michael Strauss

federal court records for genealogy

Where are Federal Records Found?

Federal Court Records are initially held in the custody of the national federal courthouses where the events occurred.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was founded in 1934.

National Archives, Washington DC (Archives1)
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001
Toll-free: 1-866-272-6272

Regional Archives – about a dozen across the country – hold record geographically by area. View the locations here at the National Archives website.

Are all the records catalogued on the National Archives website?

  • Master federal indexes are not yet online. Indexes are found at the location/level where these record files were created.
  • Each of the federal courts are found in record groups (RG).
  • Get the finding aid for the record group online at the National Archives website. That will point in the right direction as to where to get the indices.
  • Resource: Finding Aids at the National Archives

Types of Federal Courts:

The Federal Court System of the United States was established under the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 76) on September 24, 1789. Click here to read more about the role and structure of the federal courts at the United States Courts website.

District Courts:

Trial Courts of the United States. Their jurisdiction include:

  • Admiralty
  • Equity
  • Bankruptcy
  • and Naturalization

These courts began at different times dependent on the geographic area and when the states were created.

Circuit Courts:

Originally established in 1789 as three courts and later expanded to nine courts by 1866. Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over all matters (especially criminal) covered by Federal Law. Abolished in 1911 and taken over by District Courts.

Circuit Courts of Appeals:

Established under the Federal Court System by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. 826), by acquiring the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Circuit Courts and later the U.S. District Courts. They have different geographic jurisdictions than the regular federal courts.

Supreme Court:

It is recognized as the highest court in the United States operating as an appeals court. Although a criminal case may have first been heard at the local level, it may have escalated to a federal court. Therefore, there could be federal records on that case.

Application for the Genealogist:

Michael has found that some of the richest records in the federal court system have come from the criminal court records. Our ancestors did get into trouble upon occasion. Michael’s grandfather was arrested in the 1940s and he was able to obtain those records.

Searching for Federal Records

Is it worthwhile to head to the National Archives and generally search to see if an ancestor has records? Or is it best to identify a case first, perhaps through a newspaper article, and then go to the National Archives location that would have the records for those identified cases?

No one is wasting their time going and searching the records. It’s a great way to get familiar with them. However, identifying a case through other records first can lead you quickly to the federal records. (Michael first found his grandfather’s case in a newspaper article.)

Types of Federal Court Records:

Dockets: Lists of cases heard by the court. Sometime referred to as court calendars.


Brief daily accounts of all actions taken by the court.


The specific judgments or orders of the court. An example would be an order granting citizenship.


Legal document arguing why one Party should prevail on a case.


When a Defendant obligates themselves to engage in activities in exchange for suspension of sentence. Frequently seen in Criminal Court.

Case Files:

All the loose documents relating to the case bundled together.

How to Find Records at the Archives:

  1. Review the finding aid
  2. Request the Index and find the name and corresponding file information
  3. Request the record

An appointment is not required. They will pull the records as you request them. Record groups are pulled at different times. For the most part you will have the opportunity to view the original documents.

Record Groups:

The National Archives is set up by record groups, such as:

Records of the U.S. District Court – RG 21

Records of the U.S. Supreme Court – RG 267

Records of the U.S. Court of Appeals – RG 276

Records of the U.S. Court of Claims – RG 123  (Claims against the US. Individual citizens could actually file claims against the US)

Request the individual record groups separately.


Bankruptcy Acts were passed by Congress usually after business disturbances or financial recessions.

Bankruptcy Act of 1800

This act followed the business disturbances of 1797.

The first national bankruptcy act was approved on April 4, 1800 (2 Stat, 19.) It provided for an effective period beginning June 2, 1800 and continuing for 5 years.

It applied only to merchants or other related parties. The act provided for compulsory or involuntary bankruptcy, but not for voluntary bankruptcy. Because of its limited applicability the act was repealed on December 19, 1803, just months before its expiration date.

Bankruptcy Act of 1841

This act followed the business panic of 1837.

The second national bankruptcy act was passed on August 19, 1841 and was to take effect on February 1, 1842.

The law allowed voluntary bankruptcy to all debtors, but limited involuntary bankruptcy to merchants, bankers, factors (an agent or commissioned merchant), brokers, and traders.

It eliminated the requirement of the consent of the creditor for a discharge. The bankrupt filer, however, could obtain his discharge through a jury trial if the jury found that he had surrendered all his property and had fully complied with the orders of the court.

Bankruptcy Act of 1867

This act followed the post-Civil War recession of 1866-1867.

On March 2, 1867, Congress approved the Nation’s third bankruptcy act to assist the judges in the administration of the law, the act provided for the appointment by the court of registers in bankruptcy.

The registers were authorized to make adjudications of bankruptcy, to hold and preside at meetings of creditors, to take proofs of debts, to make computations of dividends, and otherwise to dispatch the administrative business of the court in bankruptcy matters when there was no opposing interest.

In cases where opposition to an adjudication or a discharge arose, the controversy was to be submitted to the court.

Bankruptcy Act of 1898

This act followed the business panic of 1893 and the depression that followed. We are currently under the umbrella of this fourth act.

In 1889 The National Convention of Representatives of Commercial Bodies was formed to lobby for bankruptcy legislation. The president of the Convention, Jay L. Torrey, drafted a new Bankruptcy Bill otherwise known as the “Torrey Bill.”

In 1898 Congress passed a bankruptcy bill based on the previous Torrey bill. This Act also called the “Nelson Act” was passed July 1, 1898, (Ch. 541, 30 Stat. 544.) It was the first United States Act of Congress involving Bankruptcy that gave companies an option of being protected from creditors. Previous attempts at bankruptcy law had lasted at most a few years. Its popular name is a homage to the role of Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota.

Bankruptcy files are in the custody of the National Archives and now stored offsite at the National Archives branch in Kansas City, MO. Researchers should contact the Archives directly to conduct searches. Some indexes are still maintained at the regional archives.

Bankruptcy Records Examples

1) Two pages from the Bankruptcy File of Percival L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks Co. PA.  1 Page is the petition and the second page is a page from “Schedule A” which lists the debt owed by the bankrupt.

federal court bankruptcy record

Petition by Debtor: Percival L. Strauss

Creditors Bankruptcy record

Schedule A – No. 3: Creditors Whose Claims are Unsecured (Percival L. Strauss)

2) Tintype of Percival L. Strauss-circa 1872 within a few years of filing Bankruptcy.  

Percival L. Strauss

Percival L. Strauss. (Courtesy of Michael’s cousin Harry B. Strauss of Myerstown, PA)

Biographical information:
Percival Long Strauss (Son of Benjamin Strauss & Rebecca Long)
Born: December 16, 1830-Upper Bern Township, Berks Co. PA
Died: Mohnton, Berks Co. PA
Married: April 9, 1855-Bethel Township, Berks Co. PA to Malinda Smith (12 Children)

May 18, 1867 (Page 3, Column 6), in the Berks & Schuylkill Journal newspaper the entry reads: “P.L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks County, PA Class #13 License paid $10.00 to conduct store (merchant).” 

This is the business he had at the time of his bankruptcy filing on May 27, 1867 in Philadelphia, PA in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Types of Information Found in Bankruptcy Records:

  • Lists of creditors (name, address)
  • Amount of money owed (the debt)
  • Specific information about the items for which the debt was incurred
  • Total dollar amounts

Follow the Federal Record Trail:

Information found could lead you to additional records. For example, if your ancestor filed for bankruptcy due to debts associated with his business, you could go back to the local level to look for records such as a business license, newspaper articles, etc.

Lisa suggests searching Google Books for digitized items such as county histories, almanacs, catalogs, merchant association books, etc. Here’s an example of a bankruptcy notice found in Google Books (which is free) for Michael’s ancestor Percival L. Strauss

Bankruptcy notice in Google Books

Searching for Percival L. Strauss bankruptcy notice in Google Books


Bankruptcy notice in Google Books

Bankruptcy notice (Oct. 9, 1868) found in Google Books

The National Archives has been consolidating all of the bankruptcy records. It is going to be the Kansas City, MO branch of the National Archives, which currently has the Patent files.

Examples of bankruptcy cases:

  • Bankruptcy Act of 1841 – Edgar Allen Poe filed bankruptcy in 1841.
  • Bankruptcy Act of 1898 Act – Dean Martin in New York

Amendments to the most recent bankruptcy act include:

1933: The “1898 Bankruptcy Act”

Amended to include railroad reorganization, corporate reorganization, and individual debtor arrangements.

1938:  The “Chandler Act”

Amended the earlier 1898 Bankruptcy Act, creating a menu of options for both business and non-business debtors. Named for Walter Chandler.

1978: The 1898 Bankruptcy Act

Replaced by The Bankruptcy Reform Act. This Act is still used today.

Writs of Habeas Corpus:

Habeas corpus is a court order from a judge instructing a person who is detaining another to bring the detainee before the court for a specific purpose.

It was often used during the Civil War for soldiers under the age of 18 years and in reference to runaway slaves.

Writs can be found in most case files. They usually involves a petition, transcript, order, and the writ when ordered by the Judge. Contact the National Archives regarding RG19 for records pertaining to this set of documents and indexes.

Fugitive Slave Act:

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850. It was one of the controversial acts passed down by law. Runaway slaves could be returned with the help of the Federal Government.

Records can include:

  • Petitions
  • Affidavits
  • Testimonies
  • Documentation of ownership

Records are typically found in the court of original petition and the court with jurisdiction over the area where the slave escaped. Search under the slave holder’s name.

The Confiscation Act of 1862:

Passed by an act of Congress on July 17, 1862, the full title is “An Act to Suppress Insurrection, to Punish Treason and Rebellion, to Seize and Confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for Other Purposes.”

This Act gave the power to take the land and businesses of persons who served the Confederacy. Records include case files include; petitions, orders of the court, proofs of public notice, and notices of seizure

Example: General Robert E. Lee. The act covered land under Union Control. Lee lived in Northern Virginia, and his home was confiscated. The file has a complete inventory of his house. The location is now the Arlington National Cemetery.

Federal Criminal Records

Criminal records could include cases covering:

  • Treason
  • Assault and Battery on the high seas
  • Conspiracy to over through our government
  • Smuggling
  • Forgery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Carrying on a business without a license
  • Not paying taxes

Naturalization Records:

Records were created:

  1. at the federal level
  2. at the local level – local court at the county level

1790: The first national act created a two-step process:

  1. Declare your intention to become a citizen
  2. File your petition for citizenship

Your ancestors may not have finished the process, and they may have filed both at local and federal levels.

Naturalization Record German Genealogy Records Bust Brick Wall

Petition for Naturaliztion


Resource: The Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Family History Genealogy Made Easy Podcast


Episodes focusing on the Naturalization process include:

Episode 29: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 1

This episode begins a 3-part series on U.S. immigration and naturalization records. Learn about passenger arrival lists in the U.S., little-known certificates of arrival and naturalization records: how to find them and what’s in them.

Episode 30: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 2

In this episode we focus on passenger departure records created in European ports. He also talks more in-depth about U.S. naturalization records.

Episode 31: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 3

In-depth discussion of passenger list annotations and the immigrant’s experience at Ellis Island. Unlock the meaning of those mysterious scribbles on 20th-century passenger manifests!

Learn More with Michael Strauss:

Visit Michael’s Website: Genealogy Research Network

Register for Michael Strauss’ week-long Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) 2020 course called Court #2 A Guide to Treasures Found in Federal Records.

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More Reading:

Black, Henry Campbell. Black’s Law Dictionary. Sixth Edition. St. Paul: West Publishing, 1990.

Burton, William C. Burton’s Legal Thesaurus. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1998.

Chapin, Bradley. Criminal Justice in Colonial America, 1606–1660. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983

Eichholz, Alice ed., Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, 3rd Ed Provo: Ancestry, 2004.

Evans, Barbara Jean. The New A to Zax: A Comprehensive Genealogical Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians. Second Edition. Champaign: B.J. Evans, 1990

Neagles, James C. and Lila Lee Neagles. Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to Naturalization Records. Logan: Everton Publishers, 1986.

Rapaport, Diane. New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians. Burlington: Quill Pen Press, 2006

Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians. San Jose: CR Publications, 2004.

Schaefer, Christina. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Luebking. The Archives: A Guide to the National Archives Field Branches. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1988.

Thank you to Michael Strauss for contributing to these notes and sharing his expertise!

This free podcast is sponsored by:

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