Using My Genealogy Detective Skills

I am a huge fan of vintage items. I love going to estate and yard sales to find old treasures. I have even created my own business on Etsy to sell the interesting antique and vintage things I come across.

The Find

Antique Photo Album

One time, at a sale, I found an antique photo album in pretty good shape. The person who was holding the yard sale had no idea where the album had come from, but was sure that it did not belong to their family.

I noticed that most of the pages of the album included handwritten notes from the original owner, identifying nearly all of the 50+ people in the album. This brought out the amateur sleuth in me. I was intrigued and had to buy it!

The Investigation

Since there were a number of surnames written in the album, and the photos weren’t necessarily grouped by family, I decided the first step in my detective work would be to organize all of the names in a spreadsheet. Another detail I culled from the album to assist in my history investigation was from the advertisement on the front page, which identified the location of the album’s manufacturer as Philadelphia.

One other lucky clue I got was from the original album owner, who actually wrote their own name and the year “1865” on the inside cover. Although I am sure I could have identified the album’s time period based on the ladies’ fashions or perhaps by identifying the photograph types (tintype, daguerreotype, etc…), this fortunate clue saved me some research time!

Once all of the information I had assembled was organized and I had a research approach, I did an online search of U.S. census collections on I used the time period and location information, in combination with the surnames I found written in the album, to refine the search.

Detective skills census record

My genealogy detective skills paid off quickly! It did not take long for me to find some of the people from the album in the 1870 U.S. census living together in the same household.

The Happy Ending

From there I searched Ancestry members’ family trees for a living descendent. I found a member who looked to be an active, frequent user of the site and I sent off a message. I started out by introducing myself and wrote:

Old Photo Album

“We are not related, but I wanted to write to you because I found an old photo album at a yard sale….”

I am happy to state, there was a very excited reply and a sense of amazement that I had found the album. Shortly thereafter, the heirloom was being shipped to a very grateful family member. I had done my good genealogy deed for the day!

Genealogy detective skills

So, now I always keep an eye out for vintage and antique photo albums when I go to yard and estate sales.

I have managed to find additional family albums since this one was found. Unfortunately, not all of them provided as many good clues as this one did. I am currently investigating the best sites and online groups to share and upload my mystery album photos, so if you have any suggestions, just let me know!

Can I help with any of your family history mysteries? If so, I would love to hear from you.

Welcome to Holly’s Genealogy Blog!

History has been a passion in both my professional and personal life, through archival work, genealogy and collecting vintage items.

The Beginning of My Interest in Genealogy


My interest in genealogy and curiosity about my own family history began in 1992, when I asked my grandmother to send me information she had about her ancestry.


Research was a little bit of a slow-go back then, involving mostly written requests to libraries and genealogical societies. Nearly 30 years later, genealogy grew from a fun pastime, to a passionate hobby, to a career choice.

My Career as an Archivist and Genealogist

Early in my career, I worked as an archivist and used the organizational and research skills I learned to enhance my genealogy techniques. I eventually received a Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University.

I am now a professional genealogist and have officially started my own business. To date, I have completed over twenty-five research projects for companies and individuals located in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and England. My specializations include New York State research and I have access to libraries and archives in the Hudson Valley and Capital District areas of the state. I also have years of experience researching New England and Mid-Atlantic digital record collections dating back to the Colonial era.  

My Research Projects

My research projects have ranged in length from a few hours to a few weeks, addressing research questions primarily concerning birth, marriage and death, as well as immigration and naturalization. I have utilized online and on-site resources including vital records, church records, land records, newspaper collections, immigrant passenger lists, naturalization and citizenship collections, cemetery records and probate records.

As I have been building my business, I have also been trying to define my social media presence. This leads me to where I am now, writing my first blog post!

With my future posts, I hope to share the discoveries I make in my personal research, as well as provide tips and advice about using different types of record collections. I also plan to feature local  libraries and archives that I use in New York as well as those I visit during my own family history trips.

I have found genealogy to be personally fulfilling endeavor. Through learning about my ancestors, I have learned a lot about myself. I hope that my enthusiasm and expertise can help you discover more about your own family history.

If you have questions or suggestions, I encourage you to leave comments in the section below. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail as well. Your feedback is appreciated. Thanks so much!