United States, How to Find Genealogy Records

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This page contains a series of links to Research Wiki articles about how to find various types of genealogically related records in the United States. The individual articles are arranged by subject heading. The linked articles may also include links to other related articles. You may also wish to search the Wiki for "How to Find" articles from various individual states. Please feel free to add new links or update existing links as they become available.

General References[edit | edit source]

These are articles of general interest in the United States on the subject of searching and finding records.

Family Records[edit | edit source]

Searching your own and family records is always the first place to start your genealogical research. Always ask relatives, both near and distant, if they have any records or photos of the family. Look for birthday cards, wedding announcements, birth notices, certificates and public documents such as driver's licenses. See also the following articles:

Vital Records[edit | edit source]

Vital Records contain information about births, marriages and deaths. You need to know the dates and geographic areas covered by these records because information about births, marriages and deaths was recorded at different times depending on the geographic or political area.

Bible Records[edit | edit source]

Bible records can often provide information that cannot be found elsewhere.

Birth Records[edit | edit source]

Birth records might seem like the first place to start your search, but experts recommend looking into death records first and marriage records second. Followed by Birth records, because birth records are usually the most difficult to find.

See also: United States, How to Use Birth Records

Death Records[edit | edit source]

Many death records are little known and quite obscure. Be sure to look for mortuary records, burial permits, transportation records, funeral programs, obituaries, memorials and grave purchases in addition to death certificates or other formal records.

See also United States, How to Use Death Records

Marriage Records[edit | edit source]

Be sure to search for wedding announcements in newspapers, anniversary announcements in newspapers, invitations to wedding receptions, announcement of banns, church notices, as well as marriage licenses and certificates.

See also: United States, How to Use Marriage Records

Census Records[edit | edit source]

There are both national and state censuses. The United States Federal Census starts in 1790 and the latest release is for 1940. The year 1890 is only available in very limited areas due to a fire. To find if a state has census records and for what years, go to The CensusFinder. There may also be local county and city censuses.

Note: There are several complete digitized copies of the U.S. Census online, most with complete images and indexes. Some of the websites require a subscription fee to view all of the Census records.

This list is likely incomplete, please search for similar articles and see the links in those articles. See also the categories at the bottom of this article.

Directories[edit | edit source]

Directories were created for salesmen, merchants, and other interested in contacting residents of an area. They are arranged alphabetically giving lists of names and addresses. These often list the adult residents of a city or area. The most helpful directories for genealogical research are city and county directories of local residents and businesses. These are generally published annually and may include an individual's address, occupation, spouse's name, and other helpful facts. An individual's address can be very helpful when searching an unindexed census of a large city.

Church Records[edit | edit source]

The United States is a country of religious diversity. Unlike many other countries, there has been no “state church,” except for a few periods in some of the early colonies. Church records in the United States began in the early 1600s. Unfortunately, the United States did not require a civil registration or recording of births, marriages, and deaths until well into the 20th Century although some of the states began the process in the mid-1800s. Sometimes church records are the only records containing birth, marriage and death about individuals. Therefore, they are a valuable substitute when vital records do not exist.

This list contains links to general articles, please see additional articles concerning individual religions or congregations and by geographic area. For example, see Vermont Church Records.

Obituaries[edit | edit source]

An obituary may be a published or unpublished death announcement. A particular obituary can be a simple two line death notice or an elaborate biography of the deceased. Obituaries may be a good source of information about a person and may also include information about family members. Obituaries usually give the name of the deceased and the death or burial date. They may also contain information such as the birth date, marriage date, names of parents and spouse, children, occupation, education, and the location of living family members at the time the obituary was written. Obituaries are usually printed in a funeral program, a newspaper or in a local history.

Obituaries have only recently begun appearing online. Collections of obituaries may only go back as far as the 1960s or 1970s. Before those dates, you may have to do a search in newspaper collections.

For further specific information search for individual states, counties, cities and towns, for example see Utah Obituaries. Also remember to search newspapers in the city, county and state where the person lived or died. See United States Newspapers.

Cemetery Records[edit | edit source]

Cemetery or burial records are sometimes called permits for burial. These records often include birth, marriage, and death information. The records can sometimes provide clues about military service, religion, or membership in an organization, such as a lodge. These records are especially helpful for identifying children who died young or women who were not recorded in family or government documents. Check the sexton's records, or visit the cemetery in person to see if other relatives are in the same or adjoining plots. To find tombstone or sexton records, you need to know where an individual was buried. The person may have been buried in a community, church, private, military, or family cemetery, usually near the place where he lived or died or where other family members were buried. You can find clues to burial places in funeral notices, obituaries, church records, funeral home records, death records and County deeds.

For further specific information search for individual states, counties, cities and towns, for example see Utah Obituaries. You will likely find that there are many valuable sources outside of the Research Wiki. Look for links to these websites on the listed Wiki articles especially in the individual states.

Funeral Home Records[edit | edit source]

Funeral home or mortuary records may contain useful information not found on the death certificate. The records may contain a list of the surviving immediate relatives, sometimes the names of grandchildren, in-laws, and other relatives. The record could provide residences for the listed relatives. A copy of the obituary or notes used to prepare the obituary may be in the record, along with a record of newspapers where the obituary was placed. Records may also contain information regarding former residences, education, church affiliation, military service, membership in clubs, lodges and other organizations. The records may include details of the grave location or type of marker. Notes regarding the funeral services, such as the officiating minister, pallbearers, and music may also be included. Information may also include life insurance information where additional genealogical information could be obtained.

Emigration and Immigration Records[edit | edit source]

Emigration refers to the process of leaving a country and Immigrations refers to the opposite process of arriving and entering into the new country.

The process of emigrating from one country to another generated various records. Often a country required the emigrant to receive permission to leave. If the emigrant obeyed this law (about one-third did not), there may be an application to leave or a passport. Emigrants also had to book passage and board a vessel for the new country. Each step could have generated a record. Most emigration records give the emigrant's name, age, close relatives or traveling companions, and last place of residence (sometimes birthplace). Immigration records may contain the same types of information.

There are dozens of Research Wiki articles on this subject. Please see Tracing Immigrants Origin Emigration and Immigration
FHL book 929.1 F21ro; fiche 6105293

See also United States Naturalization and Citizenship

Naturalization and Citizenship[edit | edit source]

Naturalization is the process of becoming a legally recognized citizen of a country. The naturalization process varies by country, state, and time period. The records also vary. In the United States, earlier records usually give the immigrant's name, age, and country of origin. More recent records tend to be more informative. Some records give a wealth of data about the immigrant and his or her family, including specific places of origin.

See also Tracing Immigrant Origins and the further links in that article.

Military Records[edit | edit source]

Military records are from times of war and times of peace. They identify individuals who served in the armed forces or who were eligible for service. Military records can help you learn more about your ancestors who served their country. These Wiki pages teach terminology and describe the contents, uses, and availability of major sets of records created mostly by the federal government. You can use them to learn about federal and nationwide sources. The Wiki pages discuss only sources that identify personal information about individuals in the armed forces and their units. They do not discuss historical sources about military institutions, weapons, battles, or tactics. The Wiki pages for the separate states have more information about state military records.

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Newspapers may focus on the world, a nation, a state, or a small community, and may serve a general audience or a particular ethnic, religious, racial, or political group. Newspapers report family information within notices of births, marriages, and deaths (obituaries), and local news. They may include the following information:

  • Birth announcements may contain the infant's name, birth date, and parents' names, as well as the religion of the family.
  • Wedding announcements may contain the wedding date and place; the names of the bride, groom, bride's parents, and groom's parents; and the religion of the family.
  • Death notices and obituaries may contain the name and place of residence of close family and friends of the decedent, as well as the decedent's death date and place, birth date and place, and biographical information, such as occupation, military service, religion, schools attended, parents' names, places of residence over time, and place of origin.
  • News stories, legal notices, local personal columns and advertisements may contain nearly any information imaginable, including political or criminal activity, legal and domestic disputes, real estate transactions, business information, social contacts, military service, missing persons (including runaway slaves), or information about local disasters, epidemics, or other community milestones which affected the local population. Early local columns are more like local gossip but contain rich family information.

Probate Records[edit | edit source]

Probate records are court records created after an individual's death that relate to a court's decisions regarding the distribution of the estate to the heirs or creditors and the care of dependents. This process took place whether there was a will (testate) or not (intestate). Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. You may also learn about the adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. Additional clues often found in probate records are an ancestor's previous residence, occupation, land ownership, household items, former spouse(s), religion, and military service. Probate records are essential for research because they often pre-date the birth and death records kept by civil authorities.

See also: United States, How to Use Probate Records

Land and Property Records[edit | edit source]

Land records are primarily used to learn where an individual lived and when he lived there. They often reveal other family information, such as the name of a spouse, heir, other relatives, or neighbors. You may learn where a person lived previously, his occupation, if he had served in the military, if he was a naturalized citizen, and other clues for further research.

Colonial Records[edit | edit source]

The earliest records in colonial times date back to the European discovery of North America.

Territorial Records[edit | edit source]

Court Records[edit | edit source]

Court records are usually searched after other records have already been investigated, but they should not be overlooked. Court records can establish family relationships and places of residence. They often provide occupations, descriptions of individuals, and other excellent family history information. Searching court records can be complex and therefore, intimidating.

Every level of political jurisdiction in the United States and many government agencies and departments have their own court systems and records.

Town and Local Records[edit | edit source]

Local histories are a valuable resource for the genealogist interested in United States genealogy and family history. Histories are available for various areas in America since its earliest settlements and colonization in the 1600s. They may be written about specific events, ethnic groups, towns, cities, counties, and states, and the United States in general and can often include limited biographies of people and families in the area. Many have been written to celebrate an anniversary such as the 100th anniversary of the founding of a town or colony.

See also: United States, How to Use County and Town Records (Those Including Vital Records)

Archives and Libraries[edit | edit source]

Archives and libraries contain a wealth of information about almost every subject imaginable. Included in their collections are almost certainly documents and records valuable to genealogical research. You should always become familiar with your local, county and state libraries and archives.

Miscellaneous Categories[edit | edit source]

Be sure and follow the links on each page of the Research Wiki. There may be further helps through the links.

References[edit | edit source]