Small business ledgers are not often examined by genealogy researchers. We’ll talk about why ledgers can be invaluable to your research – there is an incredible amount of genealogically leverageable material to be found in ledgers. You can learn so much about your family, the neighborhood, other local business proprietors, and so much more, through these records. Need a resource rich in FAN club info, check out ledgers. The barter system created a web of relationships involving many in the community. Store, business (e.g., hotels, livery, stable, distillery, blacksmith, etc.), and health-related (e.g., physician, insane asylum, etc.) ledgers can link family members and provide many interesting details invaluable to your family history narrative. Relationships are sometimes noted – e.g., Tom son of William. Enslaved people (and location) are sometimes called out in physician’s ledgers as they were treated. Deaths or weddings might be noted in a livery ledger as a horse is rented. Distillery ledgers show that everyone seemed to buy whisky – including preachers and physicians. Depending on where you lived and when different goods were bought and sold at the local stores. Different industries (e.g., naval stores) proliferated in select communities, and ledgers reflect such. Free persons of color are also mentioned, as are women and children, types of individuals often underrepresented in official government documents. Ledgers are personal and intimate; they include everyday little details about your family that will be found nowhere else. A ledger just may poke a hole in that brick wall you’ve been staring at.
Diane L. Richard, MEng, MBA, of Mosaic Research and Project Management, has been doing genealogy research since 1987 and, since 2004, professionally focused on the records of North Carolina and southern states. She regularly contributes to Internet Genealogy. She has authored more than 500 articles on genealogy topics. She has been pursuing “small business” ledgers as a genealogical research tool since doing research for “Who Do You Think You Are?” a decade ago. Since 2016 she has been the editor of the North Carolina Genealogical Society (NCGS) journal, which has commenced a focus on publishing abstracted/transcribed ledger material, to continue into 2025. She is a board member of NC Historical Records Online, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing public access to high-quality images of original records and other related information useful for researching North Carolina history and genealogy; including ledgers!