Maryland, United States, Deaths 1776-1849

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The Basics on How to Search for Ancestors in the United States

While there is no set way to do research in the United States, this guide gives basic research steps and an explanation of the records.

The following list of suggested records is given in an order likely to help many people.

What you are looking for?

An understanding of the research process and how to use the suggested list of records to search.

United States Previous Research, Part 1

Previous research is the work other people have done. By searching what others have already done, you may save hours. However, previous research is only as good as the skills of the person doing the research. Therefore, you should double check the information in previous research.

What you are looking for?

Information about your ancestors compiled by other people.

Why go to the next record?

Any of the following records may
  • Have the information you are looking for.
  • Add information to what you have found.
  • Clear up differences found in previous searches.

If you find new information, you may want to again look at the records you searched before.

Wills, administrations, and inventories indicate when and where a person died.

Wills, Administrations, and Inventories: Probate records

Wills, administrations, and inventories (probate records) show a court's decisions regarding the distribution of the estate of a deceased person to his heirs or creditors. They may give the person's death date, names of family members, family relationships, and residences. They may also give information about the adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents.

There are probate records for towns, counties, states, and the country.

What you are looking for?

  • Your ancestor's will, the list (inventory) of what he or she owned at death, or records of what was done to settle the estate.
  • Similar records of people who are or might be your ancestor's parents or relatives who might have included him or her in their wills.

Tombstone and Sexton Records: Cemeteries

Tombstone and sexton records contain information from tombstones or from records kept by the sexton of the cemetery. They usually give the ancestor's name, birth date, and death date. They may include the birthplace and date, name of spouse, names of children, and names of other relatives.

There are tombstone and sexton records for towns, counties, states, and the country.

What you are looking for?

Your ancestor's tombstone inscription or your ancestor's name in the sexton records.

Why go to the next record?

Burial records are alternatives to death records. People generally were buried within a few days of death and usually near the place they died.

Church Baptisms, Marriages, Burials, Minutes, etc.

Church records usually include baptisms, marriages, burials, and minutes. Baptism records usually give the name of the child, parents' names, and date and place of baptism. Marriage records usually give the names of the bride and groom, witnesses, and the date and place of the marriage. Burial records usually give the name and age of the deceased person, with the date and place of burial or death. The name of the spouse may be listed, and for young children, the names of the parents may be given. Church minutes have a variety of information, including lists of members in various years.

Church records were kept in towns or counties by the minister or clerk of a congregation.

What you are looking for?

A church record of your ancestor's burial.

Why go to the next record?

Land records give an idea of when a person died and often list spouse and children.

Land Transactions, Person to Person: Land and property

Deeds contain the names and residences of the grantor and his wife (the sellers) and the grantee (buyer). Deeds may contain the names of children and their spouses, siblings, and sometimes the parents or in-laws. Deeds give a description of the land, the date the deed was actually written, and the date it was recorded. Witnesses and neighbors mentioned may be relatives or in-laws.

Deeds are kept by the clerk of the county where the deed was recorded.

What you are looking for?

Records transferring land from your ancestor to someone else, especially about the time of your ancestor's death.

Why go to the next record?

A magazine may have an article about your family or copies of the records you need, such as church and cemetery records.

Genealogical and Historical Magazines: Periodicals

Genealogical and historical magazines often publish such information as: family histories, obituaries, newspaper notices, church, cemetery, land, probate, tax, military, and naturalization records. Historical magazines may contain biographies and histories of towns, ethnic groups, organizations, industries, historical events, political campaigns, military activities, etc.

There are genealogical and historical magazines for cities, counties, regions, states, and the country.

What you are looking for?

  • An article about your ancestor.
  • An article about your ancestor's relatives.
  • An article about the town or county where your ancestor lived.
  • An article with records for the town or county where your ancestor lived.

Why go to the next record?

A collection often gathers information from many sources. Some of these sources may no longer be available or would be difficult to find.

Genealogical Collections: Genealogy

Genealogical collections usually give information about families and may include several generations. They usually give the names, and birth, marriage, and death dates and places for the husband and wife, the children, and possibly siblings and parents.

There are genealogical collections for towns, counties, states, and the country.

What you are looking for?

  • A collection about your ancestor's family.
  • A collection with records from the place where your ancestor lived.

Why go to the next record?

Family Bibles often give death and burial dates.

Family Bible: Bible records

Family Bibles were passed down from generation to generation. They often have a section for recording family information. The recorded information usually gives birth, marriage, and death dates for one or more generations. The Bible record may list parents and names of children and their spouses, including maiden names.

Family Bibles are usually in the possession of family members, or the Bibles may have been given to town, county, regional, state, or national repositories.

What you are looking for?

A Bible for your ancestor's family.

Obituary: Obituaries

Obituaries (death notices with some biographical information) are written by family members and published in local newspapers. They usually give the name of the deceased; residence; age; dates and places of birth, marriage, and death; name of spouse; and maiden and married surnames of women. Obituaries may give the names of parents, names of children with their residences, names of children's spouses, place of burial, name of undertaker, cause of death, previous residences, occupation, military service, immigration information, religion, membership in organizations, and a photograph.

Obituaries are found in newspapers for towns and cities.

What you are looking for?

  • An obituary for your ancestor in a book of obituaries.
  • An obituary in a newspaper where and when your ancestor died.

Why go to the next record?

Newspapers often give announcements of deaths, which may include date and place of death plus information about family members.

Newspapers: Newspapers

Local newspapers report local, regional, national, and global news. They also include notices of births, marriages, deaths, obituaries, etc. To find newspapers, you need to know the place and an approximate date of an event. Check newspapers from a week or two before or after a wedding, funeral, or wedding anniversary to find mention of out-of-town visitors and relatives.

There are newspapers for towns and cities.

What you are looking for?

A newspaper covering the area where your ancestor lived when he or she lived there.

Why go to the next record?

Town and county histories often give short biographies of first settlers and people in the area when the histories were written. State histories often give biographies of prominent men.

History: History

Histories tell of the events in a community or larger area. Effective family research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records dealing with them. Learning about governments, laws, wars, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records in which your family was listed, such as land and military documents.

Histories often contain biographical sketches about individuals and their families. They may include birth, marriage, and death information.

There are histories for towns, counties, regions, and states.

What you are looking for?

A history of the town, county, or state where your ancestor lived.

Why go to the next record?

The 1840 veterans schedules give names, ages, and locations of military pensioners. Many Revolutionary War veterans or their wives are listed in this schedule. The 1890 veterans schedules give names and locations of veterans. If the veteran was dead and his wife was still living, the wife may be listed on the schedule.

Veterans Schedule: Census

A veterans schedule is a type of federal census record that lists living war veterans or their widows. The 1840 schedule lists the names and ages of living pensioners (or widows) of the Revolutionary War and other military service, with the names of the heads of the households where they lived. The 1890 schedule lists names, ages, and birthplaces of living veterans (or widows) of the Union army during the Civil War, and it identifies the state, company, and regiment of service.

There are veterans schedules for states and the country.

What you are looking for?

The name of your ancestor or his wife on a veterans' schedule.

Why go to the next record?

Court records often give biographical information about the people in a court case, such as a death date.

Civil and Criminal Court Records: Court records

Court records may include information on the settlement of estates, civil cases where people took court action against each other, and criminal cases. The information varies by case, but court records usually give the person's full name, age, and place of residence. They also tell about the court case and the court's decision. Court records may give occupations, names of relatives, friends or neighbors, family relationships, or other biographical information.

There are civil and criminal court records for towns, counties, states, and the country.

What you are looking for?

Court records for the area where your ancestor lived during the time he or she lived there.

Why go to the next record?

Poorhouse records give the date of death if a person died in a poorhouse.

Poorhouse Records: Poorhouses, poor law, etc.

Poorhouse or almshouse records may give the name, age, name of parent, occupation, place of origin, and circumstances such as sick, bastardy, lunatic, widow, orphaned, terminally ill, or destitute. These people were boarded at town, county, or church expense in homes for the poor or in private homes.

Poorhouse or almshouse records are found in civil court or church records in towns and counties.

What you are looking for?

Poorhouse records for your ancestor.

Why go to the next record?

Military records often give death information, such as date, place, and cause.

Military Records: Military records

Military records may contain birth information about a large portion of the male population. They may also have information about their deaths and marriages.

Pensions are offered for military service by state or federal governments. The applications and pension records often contain birth, marriage, death, and service information; residences; and names of spouses, children, and other close relatives. They began with the Revolutionary War and continue to the present.

There are military records for towns, counties, states, and the country. There are military pension records for states and the country.

What you are looking for?

Records about your ancestor's military service. To find his or her military records, you usually need:
  • The state where he enlisted.
  • His company, regiment, or unit.
  • Dates of service.

Why go to the next record? Biographies, diaries, etc., often have death information, such as death dates and places.

Biographies, Diaries, etc.: Biography

Biographies, diaries, etc., give information about persons who lived in a particular area. Regional, state, or national biographies generally include well-known persons, such as politicians, or other people who have attained status in their profession. They may mention the person's parents, spouse, children, and ancestors, with birth, marriage, and death dates and places. They may give information about the person's religion, occupation, military service, etc.

There may be biographies, diaries, and similar records from towns, counties, or states.

What you are looking for?

  • A biography about your ancestor or his family.
  • A diary written by your ancestor or someone close to him or her who might have written about your ancestor.

Why go to the next record?

This is not a complete list of all records you could search. If you did not find what you need, check the FamilySearch Catalog - Place Search or archives and libraries for the area where your ancestor lived for other records which may have information about your ancestors.