Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vertical Files: Ignore Them at Your Own Risk!

Vertical files are often overlooked when researching in county archives and other local repositories. These files contain documents related to a specific surname, location, or other subject. The document types vary, but may include obituaries and other news clippings, photos, family group sheets, and correspondence. On my research trip this past week, studying the contents of vertical files helped me make two major breakthroughs.

At the Saint Clair County, Alabama Archives, the vertical file on Griffin Golden, my third great-grandmother’s brother, contained a newspaper clipping that named his place of birth and related a family story about their journey from South Carolina to Alabama. Other documents give his birth place as Talladega County, but this is the only document to give a specific location within the county. Using this news clipping, census records, and maps, I was able to re-create Griffin’s family and identified who I think is his father.

In Knoxville, I had already made a little bit of progress on my Horton clan, proving that the Joseph Horton in Knox and Roane Counties is the same Joseph Horton that previously lived in Dandridge (Jefferson County). Examining the vertical file of an allied family, I discovered a marriage record for one of Joseph’s daughters. It was just a hand-written reference, but it was sourced, and I easily located the original bond -dated October 22, 1789 from Lincoln County, North Carolina - at FamilySearch. It stands to reason that if his daughter married in Lincoln County, Joseph was there – or very close to that location. It was all I could do to not scream in excitement when I made this discovery! Of course, I need to do a lot more research, but at least I have a place to start looking now – all thanks to a vertical file at the McClung Collection in Knoxville!

Are you planning any research trips soon? Make a mental note to check the vertical files. You never know what nugget – that very thing you need to break down a brick wall (or two) - might be hiding in those files. Ignore them at your own risk!


  1. This is so true! Sometimes you plow through several pages of nothing and a little gem such as an obit or a copy of a family Bible page pops up out of nowhere. Vertical files are where gen society volunteers put the miscellaneous items that are hard to catalog.

  2. Congratulations on your breakthroughs! This is great advice which I cannot wait to take myself when I get a chance to visit an archive.