United States Business Records

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There have always been business records but the challenge to genealogists is that they are seldom identified as genealogical records. Governments from the earliest times have issued permits and licenses to allow businesses to operate. Also from the earliest times there have guilds and trade unions governing the activities of their members and keeping records. Many businesses have also produced biographical collections of the company's officers and employees. In the Unites States publicly owned companies often produce an annual report in printed form. Cities have produced city directories listing all of the businesses in the city and included, in many cases, all of the residents. It is also important not to overlook advertisement which may contain information about the owners or operators of a business.

Many of these business records have been preserved in various libraries and other record repositories.

Some commonly available business records include or are included in the following:

  • Mortuary records
  • Farming and agricultural records
  • Slaves, Apprentices and Indentured Servants
  • Insurance records
  • Newspapers
  • Union records
  • Mining records
  • Business formation records
  • Churches
  • Railroads
  • Shipping and other transportation records
  • Business licenses and bonds
  • Professional licenses
  • Medical and Dental office records
  • Photography businesses
  • Business and other types of directories
  • Utility records

There are many more possible categories which can be suggested by studying the types of records that may have been created in the course of the business operation.

See also the following:

Online Business Records Sites

A valuable reference book for all areas of genealogical research is Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006. The entire book is online. Look in the chapter on Business, Institution and Organization Records.

All of the larger online genealogical record databases contain some business records. Some of these online sources are available only by subscription but check with your local FamilySearch Center to see if these online sources are available to patrons for free. Here are some online sources that contain business records:

Be sure to check the availability of business records in local, county and state libraries and other state record repositories. Check the list of state libraries on PublicLibraries.com

You may also wish to check each of the state's secretary of state and corporation commission for old records. For a list of the varios secretaries of state of the states see Coordinated Legal Tech. For a list of the various corporation commissions see Federal Communication Commission however, no links are provided and you will need to search for a webpage for each of the entities listed.

Mortuary records

It is not too unusual for mortuaries or funeral homes to preserve their records for a considerable period of time. Even when the mortuary is sold, sometimes the records are maintained by the new owner. As is the case with most business related records, you have to spend some time researching the geographic area where your ancestor lived in order to determine which mortuary may have been involved with the internment. In some cases, the identity of the mortuary may be recorded in the cemetery records. There is also the possibility that the mortuary donated its older records to a local historical society, library or state archive.

See also United States Funeral Homes

Mortuary or funeral home records are not uniformly kept or recorded. Depending on the location and type of records maintained the records may contain the following:

  • the location of the death
  • the names of surviving relatives
  • the dates of birth and death
  • the place of burial.

In some cases the records may contain additional information about:

  • family members
  • occupation
  • military service
  • organizational memberships
  • church affiliation
  • insurance company information

See also Researching Funeral Home Records A Genealogical Tool.

Farming and agricultural records

Most researchers do not think of using farming and agricultural records, but it is important to know that from 1850 to 1900 Agricultural Schedules were compiled in conjunction with the U.S. Census records. For more information on these records see United States Census Agricultural Schedules. See also Agricultural Schedules: 1850 to 1900. There is some information available as early as 1840. See Census of Agriculture

Agriculture Schedules can help where land and tax records are missing or incomplete. These records can be used

  • to distinguish between people with the same names
  • to document land holdings of ancestors with suitable follow-up in deeds, mortgages, tax rolls, and probate inventories
  • to verify and document black sharecroppers and white overseers who may not appear in other records
  • to identify free black men and their property holdings
  • to trace migration and economic growth

See Non-Population Schedules and Special Censuses.

Farm and agricultural cooperative organizations (Co-ops) are also a valuable resource. For an example of the types of records and organizations available see: Manuscript Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society and other similar repositories.

See also

Slaves, Apprentices and Indentured Servants

Many immigrants were slaves, indentured servants or apprentices.

Slaves were brought to America as prisoners and bought and sold as property. The slave records are essentially business records.

Apprentices and indentured servant's masters paid for their passage in return for labor. Indenture and apprentice records often mention birthplace or residence.

An apprenticeship consisted of a contract between two parties, one of which is usually a minor (the “apprentice”) who is bound to the other person (the “master”) to serve him for a stated period of time, during which the master agrees to teach the apprentice an art, skill, or trade while providing complete maintenance. The agreement may include a grant of money, clothing, and/or property upon completion of the term.

On completion of an apprenticeship, an apprentice might become a Journeyman, although in early colonial America that term was not prevalent -- the apprentice simply became a paid servant.

For information about slavery, see the following Wiki articles: (African American Research

See also the following websites:

Insurance records


Union records

Mining records

Business formation records



Shipping and other transportation records

Business licenses and bonds

Professional licenses

Hospital, Medical and Dental records

Photography businesses

Business and other types of directories

Utility records

See also