Step-by-Step Arizona Research 1900--Present

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Arizona Gotoarrow.png Step-by-step research 1900--present

  • A suggested approach to genealogy research in Arizona family history records.

Step-by-step Arizona
Research 1900--to the present

Table of Contents

1. Contact living relatives.
2. Online census records.
3. Births, marriages, and deaths online
4. Obituary and cemetery records online.
5. Military records online.
6. Immigration and naturalization records online.
7. Study clues.



What sets this era in Arizona genealogy apart from earlier time periods are the advent of civil registration (state birth, marriage, and death certificates) and the possibility that you have older living relatives who can provide memories and family records. In addition, U. S. census records (occurred every 10 years--1900-1940), Social Security collections, obituary and cemetery records make it possible to find a lot of genealogical information in just a few rich record types.
See also, How to use "record hints".

Step 1. Find out everything you can from living relatives and their family records:

Every good genealogy project starts with finding all the clues you can gather from living relatives — both from their memories and from documents or memorabilia in their homes.

What should you ask?

In order to extend your research on your ancestors, you are looking for names, dates, and places. Everything you learn that tells you about when and where a relative lived is a clue to a new record search. Be sure to ask questions that lead to that information, including about their occupations, military service, or associations with others, such as fraternal organizations. See also:

What documents should you look for and ask to copy?

  • Announcements of births, weddings,
    and anniversaries
  • Baby and wedding books
  • Certificates
  • Deeds, and property records
  • Family Bibles
  • Family reunion notices and records
  • Fraternal or society records
  • Insurance policies
  • Journals and diaries
  • Letters and cards
  • Licenses (business, marriage,
    fishing, driving)
  • Naturalization documents
  • Newspaper clippings and obituaries
  • Medical records
  • Military service and pension documents
  • Occupational awards
  • Passports
  • Personal histories and biographies
  • Photograph albums
  • Printed Notices and Announcements
  • Programs (graduation, award ceremonies, funerals)
  • School records
  • Scrapbooks
  • Wills and trusts

Family Members Born After 1940

Because the most recent census available was taken in 1940, family documents and the knowledge of living family members play a vital role in identifying these people. Once you have learned names, places of residence, and clues to estimate approximate birth date, the next important step is to send for birth, marriage, and death records for them. Skip to Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.


Arizona newspaper wedding announcement.png

Using the clues to lead to census record searches.

Here are three documents you might find in a home search: a newspaper clipping of a wedding announcement from 1902, a clipping of an obituary, and a Facebook announcement of a 50th wedding anniversary party.

Notice how the clues in them let us know other records to search:
1. Monico Garcia and Amelia Hunt were married in Winslow, Arizona, on the Monday before the newspaper was published on July 12, 1902, which would have the 7th. Monico worked for the Apache County government. We would expect to now be able to follow this family's development through the years by locating their records in the 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses of Arizona. Also, we might find Monico and Amelia in the 1900 census, living in their parents' homes. Click on the blue links to see what can be discovered in the census records.

2. Domitila or "Tillie" Yanez lived her entire life from 1924 on in Douglas, Arizona. Yanez is apparently her married name, as her husband is Henry (Garza) Yanez. We find her maiden name by looking at her brother, Narciso (Chico) Robles. We need to look for this family in the 1930 and 1940 censuses, four children: Domitila (Tillie) Robles, born in 1924; a sister, Refugia (Cuca) Robles; a brother, Narciso (Chico) Robles; and another sister, Esther (Chio), all living in Douglas, Arizona. If we find them, we can identify their parents. Then we can continue to follow backward in time to the 1920 census. Click on the blue links to see what we actually find in the census searches. Notice that both her parents and her grandfather are discovered.

Arizona obituary.png

3. In the 50th wedding anniversary announcement (below) for Howard and Lynne Powers, the couple's names and children's names are given, but most intriguing is the final paragraph: "Lynne is the daughter of Matt Hanhila and Merna and is a third generation Arizona native. Howard is the son of Joseph and Cleone Powers, originally from Wisconsin and long time valley residents." The couple was married in 1964. If we assume they were about 21 years old, they would be born in about 1943, too late to appear in the available census records. However, if they were older when they married or had older brothers or sisters, we might find their parents as a married couple in the 1940 census. The places mentioned are Glendale, Scottsdale, and "the valley". So let's start with the 1940 census of Arizona, possibly the 1940 census of Wisconsin. Then we'll work our way back in time, 1930, 1920, 1910, and 1900 looking for the three generations of Lynne's family in Arizona.

Screen shot of 50th wedding anniversay.png



Step 2. Find your ancestors in every possible census record, 1910-1940, online.

A census is a count and description of the population of a country, state, county, or city for a given date. A census took a "snapshot" of a family on a certain day. For each person living in a household you might find (depending on the year) their name, age, birthplace, relationship to head of household, place of birth for father and mother, citizenship status, year of immigration, mother of how many children and number of children living, native language, and whether they were a veteran of the military.

To learn more about census records, including search strategies, see United States Census Records for Beginners.

Look at the samples of census records below. You should find your family members in every possible census, using these convenient links:

United States census records

  • Here is a sample of a 1900 United States census record. You can see all the different information you can glean from this record once you find your family in the census.
    1900 United States Census.jpg
  • You will want to find and keep notes on census records from every census during each ancestor's lifetime. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1897 and died in 1945, you will want to find them in the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses.
  • With the census records, you will then be able to estimate approximate birth dates and marriage dates. These records will lead you to new searches because you will find the names of other members of the family. You will find clues to other states and countries your family lived in before coming to Arizona.

Using the census clues to lead to a birth certificate.

From the census records we found for these three families, we can develop lists of people who were born in Arizona during the time that Arizona kept birth certificates.

1. Monico and Amelia Garcia, had four children listed in the various census records. By subtracting their ages from the census year, we can estimate the year they were born: Adelia (1904), Lupita (1906), James (1909), and Margaret (1913). Their birth certificates should be available, and can be used to find their full birth dates and birth places.

2. Likewise, we should be able to find the birth certificates of Domitilo Robles (1924) and her siblings: Refugia (1915), Virginia (1917), Narciso, (1922), and Esther (1929). There is an unusual gap in the births of the children from 1909 to 1913. We might find additional children not listed in the census records.

3. The census shows that Lynne Hanhila Powers was born about 1938 in Arizona and had a sister Lissa V. born in 1936. By obtaining their birth certificates, we will also learn the maiden name of Lynne's mother, Merna, who was born in Arizona about 1913. We can then send for Merna's birth certificate, which will give the names of her parents, including her mother's maiden name and thus extend the pedigree another generation.
Click on the blue links to see what we found!

Using the census clues to lead to a marriage certificate.

Here is just one example of a possible marriage certificate search. Since Tillie's Robles Yanez' parents, Narciso and Margaret are found in the 1920 census with a six-year-old child. We can estimate that they were married in about 1913-1914, and look for their marriage certificate. Click on the link to see what was discovered.

Using the census clues to lead to a death certificate.

Next we can look for death certificates for many of the people we have identified. Click on the blue links to see the results of those searches. The most important thing to notice is that in each certificate the parents are named, enabling us to identify the next generation on the pedigree!

1. Monico Garcia
2. Amelia Hunt Garcia
3. Gabriel Garcia and his wife,Beatrice, parents of Monico Garcia.
4. Narciso Robles and his wife Margarita, parents of Domitilo "Tilllie" Yanez.
5. Plutarcio Robles, Tillie's grandfather.
6. Lynne Hanhila Powers' grandfather, Felix Oscar Hanhila

Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.

States, counties, or even towns in some states recorded births, marriages, and deaths. You have probably seen these types of certificates and have your own. In addition to the child's name, birth date, and place of birth, a birth certificate may give the birthplaces of the parents, their ages, and occupations. A death certificate may give the person's birth date and place, parents' names and birthplaces, and spouse's name.

Tip Tip1.jpg Remember that for family members born after 1940 you do not have census records to rely on. The information from interviewing family members will hopefully give you enough detail that you know approximate years of birth, marriage, or death. Sending for certificates will help verify identities, prove relationships, and fill in greater detail.

Studying what you have found:

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  • Review what you have found to see if there is missing information that could be found in a birth, marriage, or death certificate for your ancestors and their children.
  • If you are missing the names of parents, find a person's death certificate. It may contain the names of the deceased's parents, which would extend your pedigree back one more generation.
  • If you find a child listed in a census record, try to find their actual birth certificate to learn their full birth date.
  • If a married couple is shown in the census records and you need the wife's maiden name, search for their marriage record or her death record. The mother's maiden name should also be given in her children's birth certificates.

Obtaining the certificates

  • There are basically two ways to find these certificates, or the information from them: by finding them in an online database, and by by purchasing them through the mail .

Online databases, usually indexes, with some images

  • This chart gives links to some Arizona online databases for these records:

Also, see How to Find Arizona Birth Records.

Also, see How to Find Arizona Marriage Records.

Also, see How to Find Arizona Death Records.

Samples of records

Here are some samples of Arizona index entries and original certificates. Notice the types of information available in each, particularly the identity of the parents, which adds another generation to your research.

Arizona birth index.png

Arizona Birth Certificate

Arizona marriage index.png

Arizona Marriage Certificate

Arizona death index entry.png

Arizona Death Certificate

Finding Microfilm Copies of Certificates

Many Arizona state, county, and Indian agency birth, death, and marriage certificates are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. These may be searched at a family history center near you. Most notably, you will find:

Many of these microfilms are also available online, as the film description will indicate.

Records at the County Courthouse

From the date of the formation of a county until the establishment of state civil registration, birth and marriage records were kept by the County Clerk. They may have been microfilmed, or you can write for them. It is appropriate to write asking for either a single record or for a list of all the marriages for a given surname. This Letter Writing Guide will help you with phrasing a letter. This online directory by Genealogy Inc. will give you the address of the County Clerk. Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the "Courthouse and Government Records" to find the address and phone number.

If you are at the main Family History Library, check first to see if microfilms of the county vital records are available. In the search field of the FamilySearch Catalog, enter the state and county. Then click on the "Vital Records" subject. The cost of renting the microfilms at a Family History Center probably makes it less expensive to just write to the County Clerk.

Ordering certificates through the mail

Even if you find an online indexed entry for a birth, marriage, or death, almost always the full original certificate will contain a wealth of information not contained in the index. A death certificate will usually give the names and birth places of the parents of the deceased. A marriage certificate frequently asks for the parents names of the bride and groom. A birth certificate frequently asks for the birth place, occupation, residence, and age of the parents. Although it costs money, consider sending for the full original certificates at least of your direct line ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents).
There are excellent collections of Arizona certificates available online. However, some time periods are not covered online, due to privacy laws. However, close relatives can still request certificates from these time periods by applying for them and paying a fee.

  • Click here for information on how to order birth records. This will require an application, a fee, and proof of your identification. Provide as many details as possible on the application, but you may leave some fields blank.
  • Marriage records are maintained by the Clerks of the Superior Court in the county where the event occurred. They are not available from the Office of Vital Records.
  • Click here for information on how to order death records. This will require an application, a fee, and proof of your identification. Provide as many details as possible on the application, but you may leave some fields blank.

Step 4: Using all the death date information, try to find additional details about your ancestors in Social Security records, obituaries, and cemetery records online.

U.S. Social Security Death Index and Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

The U.S. Social Security program began in 1935 but most deaths recorded in the index happened after 1962. The Social Security Death index includes those who had a Social Security number and/or applied for benefits. The index entries give the person's full birth date, last known residence, and residence at the time they first enrolled. Women are listed under their married name at the time of their death. You can search these records online at United States Social Security Death Index. Also at Ancestry.com, ($), index.

The Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off, by providing information filed in the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. Unless the deceased would be at least 75 years old today, the parents' names are not published. You will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI, as criteria for inclusion differs.

If you find your ancestor in the SSDI index, you can order a copy of their original Social Security application (SS-5). If you can prove the individual has died (by sending an obituary or copy of their cemetery headstone), the application will also give the deceased's parents' names, if listed.

SSDI Entry: Arizona ssdi.png
Social Security Application and Claims Index Entry
Arizona Social Security Application

Obituaries and cemeteries

Obituaries
  • Frequently, a death is announced in the newspaper with an obituary.
  • These obituaries may supply missing birth or death dates and name the parents of the deceased.
  • Obituaries may also name family members, their spouses, their current residences, and whether they died before the person or are still surviving, especially in obituaries written in the last half of the 20th Century.
  • Try these Arizona links:
Cemeteries
  • Cemetery records may only give the names and dates stated on the tombstone, but as in the case of FindAGrave, sometimes pictures of the deceased and their tombstone, children's or parents' names and links to their graves, and marriage information have been added. Always verify information added by others.
  • Frequently family members are buried in the same cemetery often in neighboring plots.
  • Try these Arizona links:

NOTE: Each database covers different cemeteries, although some may overlap. Don't be discouraged if you do not locate your individual in the first database. Check each collection.

This example of an online cemetery record is from FindAGrave
Arizona FindaGrave.png

Step 5: Search military records: World War I and World War II draft cards.

  • There are many different types of military records, some covered in online collections, some microfilmed, and some requiring you to order them from government repositories with a fee. For more information, read the U.S. Military Records Class Handout. Information in military records can vary from a simple lists of name, age, and residence, to more detailed records including name, residence, age, occupation, marital status, birthplace, physical description, number of dependents, pensions received, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans, and other information.

World War I Draft Registration

Arizona WW I.png
  • One of the most helpful military records is the draft registration of 1917-1918. During three separate registrations, men born between 1873-1897 were required to register in the draft for World War I. Cards may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, physical description, next of kin (usually the wife or mother), and number of dependents. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
Arizona WW II.png

World War II Draft Registration

Likewise, the World War II draft in 1942 may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, and other family members as contacts. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at U.S. WW II Draft Registration Cards, 1942. Although draft cards for Arizona are not online yet, men born in Arizona but living in other states can still be found.







Step 6: If your ancestor was an immigrant, search immigration and naturalization records online.

The census records may show that your ancestor was born in another country. It will be necessary to try to find the town or city they were born in to continue research in the country of origin. Searches of immigration records (usually passenger lists) and naturalization (citizenship) records are the next goal. Immigration refers to people coming into a country, such as the United States, and emigration refers to people leaving a country to go to another. Usually these records are passenger lists of the ships they sailed on. A typical record will show name, age, and country of origin, but in ship lists after 1906 you can find the actual town of birth, the next of kin still living in the old country and their residence, and the names of relatives in the place they are traveling to.

Census clues to Immigration records

Census records can provide important clues about nationality and immigration. This chart lists data that can be found in each of the census records. Gather the information in the census records specifically about immigration, as it will help narrow down your search.

Immigration and Naturalization Found in the U.S.Census by Year
(other information also given but is not listed here)
Year of census
Immigration and Naturalization Information
1870
  • Whether father and mother are of foreign birth
1880
  • Place of birth for father and mother
1900
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • How many years lived in U.S.
1910
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
1920
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Year of naturalization
  • Native language
  • Native language of father and mother
1930
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Native language
1940
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized

Immigration records

Passenger lists and border crossing lists are the most common immigration records. There are many immigration records available. Click here to see a complete list of available immigration records online. Notice that they are listed by state, but under the letter "U" there is a long list of records that cover all of the United States. Unless family information tells you the port where family arrived, you will need to search all of the United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records for the time period when your ancestors arrived.

There are also some immigration records unique to Arizona:

Naturalization (Citizenship) Records

Arizona naturalization.png

Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. Records can include the immigrant's declaration of intent to become a citizen, petitions for citizenship, and final certificate of naturalization. Naturalization records after 1906 can show birth date and place, spouse's name, marriage date and place, and lists of children with their birth dates.

Arizona naturalization records could be recorded at the county court or the Federal District or Circuit Court. You must look for them in both locations. Try searching first in any county where the person lived, unless the census tells you the year they were naturalized, and you have evidence of where they lived that year. If you cannot locate them in the county records, try searching for them in the Federal courts.

Arizona Naturalization and Citizenship Online Records


Step 7: Study each record for other possible searches.

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You can now go through a process of working back and forth between all the different record types. Most researchers find clues in the census records that alert them to new certificates to obtain. The certificates then give them ideas of new facts to look for in the census. For example, when a marriage certificate gives you a wife's maiden name, you will then want to look for her in earlier censuses listed with her family as a child. When the census shows you her parents' names, you may then search for their death records. The death records might show their patents' names and take you back to the census to search for them. A naturalization record listing children's names might lead you back to birth certificate searches, and so on.


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