How to Locate Your Ancestor in the United States

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Knowing where your ancestor lived is key to successful research, since records may be kept by state, county, or town agencies. Local records such as censuses, death certificates, county histories, military records, and obituaries tell so much about the people who lived there.

If you know the name of the town but not the state, you can find possible counties and states using the Rootsweb town search.

You may find in your research that your ancestor was born or lived in a particular state, with no county or town given. Thus it becomes a challenge to find out exactly where he or she lived in that state.

Fortunately there are many types of records to search to help you locate your ancestor. This guide lists these types of records and give suggestions on how to find where your ancestor lived in the United States.

What You Are Looking For: The place where your ancestor lived so that you can use the records of that place to find more information about your ancestor, such as birth, marriage, and death information.

Steps[edit | edit source]

The following steps list sources which may give the state, county, or town where your ancestor lived.

Step 1. Check previous research.[edit | edit source]

Research done by other people may have the information you are seeking. For suggestions on previous research, including Internet sites, see How to Use Previous Research. 

Step 2. Check these sources to learn where your ancestor lived.[edit | edit source]

Step 3. Check these sources if you know the state but not the county or town.[edit | edit source]

Census indexes usually give the town and county where the head of the household lived. The censuses were taken every 10 years starting in 1790. United States Census Indexes are available from 1790 to 1940 for most states. For more information about censuses, check Census on the FamilySearch or in this Research Wiki

PERiodical Source Index
Free family history
  • County and town histories To go to the county and town histories. Find the state you want to search click on it. Each state has links to all its counties and almost each county has a county history and many have town histories. Also check:
United States, Histories of Towns, Counties, and States
Genealogical Index of the Newberry
Free family history
The Official Federal Land Records Site
Ancestry Land Records
U.S. Land Records Online (
U S Courts/Court Records
United States Probate Records
GENEALOGICAL COURT RECORDS Put in Marriage indexes + county, town, or state. (106,000+ results with just marriage indexes)
Marriage Records at Ancestry
U.S. Marriage Records at GenWed
Online Marriage Indexes at About Enter Probate indexes + county, town, or state.
Genealogy Blog Enter Tax lists + county, town, or state.
Tax Lists Ancestry Enter Militia lists + county, town, or state.
State militia lists at Ancestry
Cyndis List Military Lists

Step 4. If you want to know where your ancestor lived previously, check:[edit | edit source]

Note: The words in parentheses ( ) indicate whether to search for town, county, state, or national records.

United States[edit | edit source]

Step 5. Find information about the relatives of your ancestor.[edit | edit source]

Use the sources in steps 1 to 4 to find where the following people lived:

  • Children of your ancestor. Parents often lived near their children.
  • Brothers and sisters. Siblings often lived together or nearby.
  • In-laws. In-laws often lived nearby.

Since people usually moved with others who were relatives, friends, or neighbors, learning about these people may lead you to information about your ancestors.

Step 6. Check places where other events happened.[edit | edit source]

If you know where your ancestor was married, check marriage records, deeds, county and town histories, and other records of that place for birth information. See lists above.

If you know where your ancestor was born, check for marriage records of that place as many ancestors were married in the town or county where they were born.

See the list of suggested records for the other events.

Related Content[edit | edit source]