Genealogy research often relies on a variety of family history documents to trace your ancestry and build a comprehensive family tree. These documents provide valuable information about your ancestors and their lives. Here are some important family history documents for genealogy research:
I always feel like I have hit the lottery when I find a birth certificate as they are a bit harder to come by than other documents.
A birth certificate gives you the legal name of your relative, their date of birth, parents’ names (including maiden names), and location at time of birth. Some birth certificates go into greater detail by documenting the occupations of the parents and if there were any other children born before the one named on the birth certificate.
Though it was practiced in some locations, a standard system for keeping birth records in the United States did not happen until after 1907.
It may be easier to find your relative’s death certificate than birth certificate since the death certificate would have been produced in more recent years.
Though a death certificate is a great document for historians, it can contain errors. The information on a death certificate comes from an informant. Usually the informant is a relative, close family friend, or medical staff, but they do not always have their facts straight. Some information on the certificate such as parents’ names, correct date of birth, spouses name, or place of birth may be incorrect, or missing all together.
There are many death certificates available through online databases like FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com or you can write to The CDC – National Center for Health Statistics to request a paper copy of a vital record.
On the CDC website, you will find links for individual states and territories with information on where to write for vital records. Official vital record certificates are not maintained by the Federal Government, but are kept on a state or local level of where the event occurred.
For guidelines to obtain vital records through the CDC- National Center for Health Statistics you can click here.
Marriage Certificates can offer information about spouses, their parents, marriage dates and locations. If you need the parentage of a person, finding their marriage license/ certificate may just open the door to the information you need. If you know the state and county your ancestors were married in, you may be able to contact your local Probate office for a copy of the license. Check into your local laws first! Some courts will not grant you a copy unless you are a direct descendant.
Federal Census Records
Taken every ten years in many countries, these documents list family members, ages, occupations, and more.
The census started in 1790 and has been taken every 10 years since. Census records are only available currently from 1790- 1940 though as there is a 72-year restriction on accessing census records.
Though the census was created as a way to determined what areas needed more schools, hospitals, houses, stores, and such based on the population of the area, it has provided some very useful information to genealogists and family historians.
Census records can tell us not only where our relative lived but how many people were in their household. Were they wealthy? Did they own their home? Could they read and write? These are all bits of information that can add to your family history and give you leads to strengthen your family tree.
However, there are problems with census records being accurate. A lot of people could not read or write, which meant they also could not spell. Census takers often wrote what they thought they heard a person say or painfully had to listen to the person sound it out. Can you imagine trying to understand someone with a heavy southern accent saying Michael? You may end up with Micha, Mitchel or Michelle on the census records.
Birth years could contain errors also. In large families, it must have been hard to keep track of all of those birth years of 16 children when asked on the spot.
Searching and finding census records has become a lot easier however since the invention of computers. Individual census records are kept by the National Archives and Records Administration and some of these records are available online on the National Archives and Records website or NARA partner websites. A list of census records available can be accessed by clicking here.
State and Local Census Records
State and local censuses were often conducted in non-decennial years to fill the gaps between federal censuses. The timing and frequency of these censuses varied by location, so it’s important to determine when they were conducted in the area you’re researching.
Like federal censuses, state and local censuses recorded information about individuals and households, including names, ages, genders, occupations, relationships, and sometimes birthplaces.
Some state and local censuses may have included additional questions or categories not found in federal censuses, such as ethnic or religious affiliations, military service, and more.
The availability of state and local census records can vary widely. Some states have preserved these records well, while others may have lost them due to fires, floods, or other disasters.
Many state and local census records have been microfilmed or digitized and are available through archives, libraries, and genealogy websites.
Since birth and death records were not required to be recorded until the early 20th century, churches often were the only source of vital statistic records.
Church records can often give you birth, death, marriage, and parentage information along with location, dates, and families.
If you know the community where your ancestor or relative was born, or what religious denomination they belonged to, you have a good head start on where to look for these records.
You can contact the church of which your relative belonged to find out the location any records that may be useful in your search, however, FamilySearch.org offers a Wiki page with links for how to obtain these records in each state. You can visit this Wiki by clicking here.
Family Bibles originated in the late 16th century when the Protestant Reformation led to greater emphasis on individual Bible reading. These Bibles included a section for recording family events.
The primary purpose of family Bibles was to serve as a religious text, but they also became repositories for recording births, marriages, and deaths within a family.
Family Bibles have played a significant role in preserving family history and genealogy for many generations. They are often passed down from one generation to the next and are treasured not only for their religious significance but also for the vital records and family history information they contain.
Family Bibles typically recorded the following vital information:
Births: Names, birthdates, and sometimes birthplaces of family members, including children and sometimes extended family.
Marriages: Names of couples, marriage dates, and sometimes the officiating clergy.
Deaths: Names, death dates, and sometimes causes of death.
Some family Bibles also included notes, inscriptions, and annotations related to family history and significant life events.
Immigration and Naturalization Records:
If your family is like mine, at some point you will find immigrants in your family tree. Families looking to start a better life boarded ships and headed for America. Once here, if they wanted to become citizens, they had to go through what is called a naturalization process.
This process of becoming a citizen of course produced paperwork. Lots of paperwork. These documents provide a wealth of information such as name, place of birth, spouse, how they traveled here, and on occasion, a photo.
The National Archives does not offer the records online; however, you can search their microfilm index to locate the documents and search in person.
Passenger Ship Records
My father in laws family immigrated to the US from Italy before he was born. He did not know very much about how long his parents had been in America, only that he was the first of their family born here. There were many unanswered questions when I started researching them. If not for passenger list, I probably would not have those answers yet today.
Through the passenger lists, I was able to find out where they came from, who they traveled with, and where they were headed. Some lists even include next of kin and what relation they are to the traveler.
I was lucky enough to find the passenger lists I was looking for through the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation’s website. Ellis Island offers about 22.5 million records of arrivals to New York between the years 1892 – 1924.
Another helpful website is the Archives.gov. They have a searchable microfilm catalog along with instructions on how to obtain copies of these records.
Ancestry.com offers not only the New York lists, but some databases for many other ports other than New York. Some of these ports include Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.
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Newspapers and Obituaries:
Newspaper articles are valuable sources of genealogical information because they often contain a wide range of details related to individuals and families. While newspapers primarily serve as sources of news and current events, they also include notices and articles that are of interest to genealogists and family historians such as birth notices, marriage notices, obituaries and death notices, anniversaries, social events, and legal notices.
Obituaries provide a wealth of details about the deceased individual and often their family members. When researching your family history, you can find information like name and date of death, date and place of birth, spouse and marriage details, along with parental information, and a list of their children. However, even though this information is documented in the newspaper, it doesn’t always mean it is correct. Take what you learn from the obituary as a lead to follow, then prove the information before adding it into your family tree.
All Records Count
Genealogist and family history buffs love a paper trail. Documents, photos, even clippings from an old newspaper, become part of our family’s story. Even when something appears unimportant there can be clues into the life of your loved one hidden between the lines. Just remember to double check before throwing anything out, and above all, enjoy the journey.
The Legal Stuff
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