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

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The following sections are summaries of the "How to Use the Record" sections in the FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles.

About U. S. County and Town Records (Those Including Vital Records)

  • Town records may be any type of record, but are usually vital records.
  • Name indexes make it possible to access a specific record quickly.
  • Indexes may contain inaccuracies, such as altered spellings or misinterpretations. If the information was scanned, there may be character recognition errors.
  • The information in these records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the informant.
  • Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after the late 1800s.
  • The type of information given may vary from one record to another record.

Find your ancestor’s vital record (search strategy)

Follow these steps.

1. Find your ancestor in the index.

  • Note the locator information (such as page, entry, or certificate number) for the record.

2. Find your ancestor’s vital record

  • Look for the page, entry, or certificate number (or other locator information) you found in the index.

3. Evaluate and record each piece of information you find.

To search the index, you need to know the following

  • The name of the individual or individuals (such as the names of the bride and groom, the infant, or the deceased).
  • The place where the birth, marriage, or death occurred.
  • The approximate date the event occurred.

Tips for finding your ancestor

  • Verify whether the name you found is your ancestor’s. Compare the information you know to the information you find. Look at relationships.
  • When looking for a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is your ancestor.
  • Check for variant spellings of the surnames.

If you don’t find your ancestor in the index, do the following:

  • Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.

Find vital records for other family members

While you are searching vital records, it is helpful to follow the same steps to find the vital records of other family members who lived in the same time and place.

1. Look for:

  • Every person with the same surname. This is especially helpful if the surname is unusual or in rural areas.
  • Children, siblings, parents, and other relatives whose records may be in the same county.
  • A second marriage of a parent.

2. Compile the individuals into families, with the appropriate parents. (Create family group records for the families.)

3. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.

Continue your research

Use the information you found to search other records. You can learn more about the same family or look for additional ancestors. Choose what you want to look for next.

If you know this information: Search for or do this:
Marriage date and place Create a family group record for the husband and wife.
Birth date or age and place of birth of the husband and wife Find the couple’s birth records and look for their parents’ names.
Birth date or age and place of birth Find the family in census records.
Residence and names of parents Find church records.

Find land records.

Find census records.
Occupations Find employment records.

Find military records, or other such records.
Parents’ birthplaces Find former residences of the family.

Establish a migration pattern.

Find census records.
The name of an officiator (clue to the family’s religion) Find church records.

Look for an area of residence in the county. (Note: Sometimes an officiator recorded events that took place in another county.)
Number of marriages, more than one Find previous marriages.
Name of undertaker or mortuary Look for names and residences of other family members in funeral records.

Look for names and residences of other family members in cemetery records.

Look for names and residences of other family members in census records.

Related Wiki Articles

Other Wiki Articles in this Series