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U.S. Records and Websites

  • Alien Registration Forms:
    • The U.S. has passed legislation several times rquiring non-citizens to register with the govenrment.
    • Applications consistently ask for name, place of residence, age, country of origin, and date and place of arrival.
    • The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required non-citizens to be registered and fingerprinted.
    • You can order a relatives citizenship records through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program.
  • Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center offers free databases, digitized books and how-to guides.
  • $ American Ancestors by New England Historic Genealogical Society
    • Heavy on New York and Pennsylvania.
    • Currently working to digitize congretional church records
  • Atlas of Historical County Boundaries
  • Birth Records:
    • By 1912 most states required birth records to be recorded.
    • A number of delayed birth certificates were issued in the 1940's in order to provide documentation for a social security card.
    • Most early birth records were created at the local level.
    • State records are generally held at the department of health or vital statistics.
  • Bureau of Land Management - official federal land records website.
  • Census Records:
    • One of the most important research tools for genealogists.
    • U.S. census from 1790-1840 list only the names of heads of households and the number of males and females.
    • Beginning in 1850, census list each person's name, age, state or country of birth.
    • The 1880 census had a seperate schedule for "defective, dependent and delinquent" classes
    • Community organizations and resources were described in the Social Statistics Schedules of the 1850, 1860 and 1870 census
    • Much of the 1890 census was destroyed.
      • Fragments remain for Alabama, DC, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas.
      • 1890 census included a special enumeration of Union Civil War Veterans and their widows, most of which survived.
      • Check to see if a reconstruction project exists for your locality.
    • Census are currently available through 1940.
    • Slave Schedules were taken in 1850 and 1860 for Southern states and Washington, D.C.
    • Veterans Schedules
      • Some census records identified members of the military
      • 1840's census had a column for Revolutionary War pensioners
      • In 1890, an entirely seperate veterans schedule was created with identifid Civil War veterans and their widows
      • 1930 census had two columns for veterans of wars and military expeditions
    • Agricultural Schedules were taken for 1840 through 1880.
    • Seven Manufacturing and Industry Schedules were taken in the 1800's.
    • Mortality Schedules survive for approximately 75% of states for 1850-1880.
    • Native Americans were genearrlly excluded from the census before 1860.
      • In 1860 and 1870 only Native Americans who did not live on a reservation were recorded.
      • Most of the 1890 census was lost, except for the Cherokee Nation Population Schedule
    • Don't forget to search the State Census records. They were often taken 5 years after the federal census.
    • Interpreting the Tick Marks on Federal Census by Elizabeth Shown Mills is a very useful article.
    • Census Tick Marks and Codes - Revisited Yet Again by Elizabeth Shown Mills is another useful article.
  • CSMR - Compiled Military Service Records
    • Compiled for pre-WWI military service by the War Department Record and Pension Office
    • Contains a variety of information, name, rank, military unit, term of enlistment, date he left the company, notations about illness, wounds, or desertion, etc.
    • Held at NARA in Washington, D.C.
      • Use NATF Form 86 to order records
    • If your ancestor re-enlisted or served in two different companies during a war, he'll probably have two seperae CMSRs.
  • Coal Miners:
  • Daughters of the American Revolution
    • Website/Library contains three interconnected databases: patriots, descendants of patriots, and DAR members.
    • DAR's collection includes thousand of Bible Records. You can now search these online here.
    • Beneficial to visit the DAR library in Washington, D.C.
      • Americana Collection contains rare and unique imprints and manuscripts.
    • Membership is available to any woman 18 years or older, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background, who can prove lineal descent from an eligible patriot of the American revolution.
    • There are local DAR chapters in most areas.
  • Digital Public Library of America
    • Contains digitized items from libraries, archives and museums.
    • Note: You can search the whole collection with a click or narrow your search to time or place.
  • Directories:
    • Keep in mind that information you find in directory was compiled the previous year. For example, a 1920 directory was compiled in 1919.
    • Sometimes first names are abbreviated, so search on just a last name.
    • City Directories list residents of a particular locale.
      • All major cities had directories by the mid-19th century.
      • Rural communities may be covered in directories for nearby cities or in region directories.
      • Generally includes name and address. Some records include birth date, occupation and members of the household.
    • House Directories are similar to city directories but are organized by street and house number instead of surname.
    • Online Historical Directories contains links to online directories by county, state and country.
  • Divorce Records:
    • Look for clues that someone was divorced:
      • A marriage record may indicate one spouse was previously divorced,
      • Children named in census records may have different last names and may be listed as stepchildren,
      • Beginning in 1880, the census included D in the marital column,
      • Obituaries might name a different spouse or children by a former spouse,
      • Probate papers may mention children by a different spouse or financial obligations of a former spouse.
    • In early U.S. history, spouses petitioned the legislature in most colonies/territories/states to get a divorce.
    • Almost all divorces after 1900 took place in the courtroom.
    • In many states, divorces within the past 50 years are sealed for privacy reasons.
  • Draft Records
    • Conscriptions Acts were in place for the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.
    • Many of the registration lists from the Civil War and World Wars have survived.
    • Typical information includes; registrants' name, residence, age, date and place of birth, race, U.S. citizenship and occupation.
    • Civil War:
      • First Union regitration took place July 1, 1863 followed by three smaller enrollments.
      • The Confederate Conscription Act of 18622 required all white males age 18 to 35 to register. This was extended to ages 17-50 by early 1864.
        • There are no consolidated lists of Confederate registrations. Each Southern state conducted its own drafts.
        • The best place to search for Southern conscription records is in the State Adjustant General's Records.
    • World War I:
      • In 1817 the U.S. Congress created the Selective Service System, consisting of local and state draft boards under the Office of the Provost Marshal.
      • Around 24 million men between the ages of 18 and 45, including non-citizens were required to register.
      • Digital images of WWI draft registration cards are online at Ancestry, Find My Past and Family Search.
      • The original records are in Record Group 163 at the National Archives Southeaswt Region in Atlanta.
    • World War II:
      • Congress passed a new Selective Service Act in 1941 requiring all males between 18 and 45 to register.
      • For privacy reasons, most WWII registrations have not been made public.
    • However, some records are available online at Fold3 and Ancestry.
  • Epodunk allows you to look up a US town where your family lived and view population, ethnic makeup, genealogical societies and libraries, local cemeteries, etc.
  • $ Fold3
    • Premiere online source for U.S. military records.
    • Key resources include: Revolutionary War pension files, War of 1812 pension records, Civil War service records, FBI case files, WWII "Old Man's Draft" registration cards, Navy cruise books and casualty lists and much more.
  • Heritage Quest (You need to log into this site through your library)
    • Available at all URRLS libraries,
    • Contains U.S. census, PERSI database, , family and local history books, Freedman's bank records, U.S. Serial set, Map and State Guides Revolutionary War pension and bounty applications.
  • Institutional Records
    • Almost everyone had a relative who became a resident in an institution for a short period or even the better part of a lifetime.
    • Institutions include: tuberculosis sanitoriums, state hospitals, poor farms, almhouses, insane asylums, old folks' homes, orphanages and prisons.
    • Begin by examining census records.
      • The censuses for 1840-1880 have a column denotaing insane persons.
      • The 1880 census includes a supplemental schedule of defective, dependent, and delinquent classes - The DDD schedules.
      • A person who was instituted when the census was conducted will be listed with others in that facility, with the facility's name written across the top of the page
      • The term "inmate" was used on census records for anyone in an institution.
      • Some enumerations of prisons may state the crime committed by the individual.
    • If an ancestor died in an institution, this information should be recorded on the death certificate.
    • Insitutions typically had their own cemetaries. The Institutional Cemeteries Website contains information on known cemeteries of asylums, poor houses, poor farms, prisoners, orphanages, etc.
    • Once you have the name of an institution, do an internet search on it plus "history" and "records."
    • In FamilySearch, run a place search of the online catalog and look under the subject heading "Archives and Libraries, Correctional Institutions, Court Records, Orphans and Orphanages, Probate Records, and Schools."
    • Search WorldCat to find published items. If you find a published item, ask your local public library about interlibrary loan.
    • For state hospitals, insane asylums and sanatriums, check out the Asylum Project Wiki which lists asylums with historical information and images.
    • For federal prison research guides and name indexes view this link
    • For a state-by-state listing of poor houses visit this link
  • Land Records:
  • Library of Congress
  • Marriage Records
    • Marriages were often the last vital record collected at the state level. Visit here for a list of statewide registration start dates.
    • Marriages may have been anounced in the local newspaper or a church publication.
    • A marriage license was typically issued by the county, parish or municipality.
    • The Marriage Return (license filled out by the person conducting the ceremony) was typically returned to whoever issued the marriage license. The document was then copied into a marriage book or register, which is usually indexed by both the bride and groom's names.
    • The person who conducted the ceremony may give you a clue as the where the couple attended church.
  • Misc
    • For the birth, marriage or death of U.S. citizens abroad, visit this link.
    • Ralilway maps can provide clues for your genealogical research.
      • They can give you an idea of how an area developed, follow the paths of ancestors, or pinpoint forgotten boomtowns.
      • The Library of Congress has made more than 600 railway maps available online here.
      • The FamilySearch Wiki has entries for ach of the major railroads here.
  • Obituaries and Death Notices:
    • American newspapers published articles about local deaths as early as the 1600s, but more detailed obituaries did not commonly appear until the early 1800s.
    • Obituaries were more common in smaller communities than in large cities
    • For recent deaths look at: Legacy, Obits for Life, or Tributes.
    • FamilySearch is currently working to index all of the obituaries at Genealogy Bank. Visit here to review those already indexed.
  • Panama Canal Workers
    • Due to the US's involvement with the Panama Canal, the National Archives has a wealth of records about its consturction at operation.
  • Passports:
    • Passport applications from 1795-1925 are accessible on National Archives microfilm (series M1372 and M 1490).
  • Patents
    • Google free patent search tool available here, has an index of U.S. patents dating to 1790 and some worldwide patent information.
    • If you have a patent number, you can order information from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
    • Ancestry has a U.S. Patent databse with records dating up to 1909.
  • Probate Records:
    • The earliest probate records date to colonial times.
    • These documents are often full of names, dates, property deeds, etc.
    • They are often found in the county court that handled the probate or the state archives. You can confirm where these records are held by consulting with "The Handybook for Genealogists: United State of America" by George Everton.
  • Railway Workers:
    • After 1936, the Railroad Retirement Board began administering retirement benefits to railway workers and their families.
      • If your ancestors SSN starts with a number between 700 and 728, he was eligible to receive benefits from the Board.
      • You can request records on deceased employees from the Board.
    • The California State Railroad Museum has 50,000 employee record cards from 1900-1930 for the Southern Pacific Railway.
    • National Railroad Museum
    • The Midwest Genealogy Center has a free index of 1.5 million U.S. Railroad Retirement Board pension records available online.
  • Repositories of Primary Sources A state-by-state list of institutions that hold primary resources. As of 1/1/15 the website will no longer be updated.
  • Sanborn Maps
    • Sanborn Maps were created to provide the insurance company with detailed information in the case of a fire.
    • Details include: size, placement, square footage, building materials, etc...
    • The LOC has an extensive collection of digitized Sanborn maps here.
    • Galileo has a collection of Sanborn Maps here.
  • Social Security Records:
    • Until 1951, the SSA didn't cover self-employed, temporary government workers, farm laborers, domestic workers, workers in US territories or overseas employees of American companies.
    • Prior to 1951 railroad workers were covered separately under the Railroad Retirement Board. The first three digits of the SSN range from 707-728.
  • Tax Records
    • Tax lists can serve as replacement records for areas where census records have been lost.
    • Tax records show where your ancestors were living and give you insight into their economic situations throughout time.
    • Types of taxes:
      • Poll, tithable, or head tax - a flat assessment for each adult male in a household.
        • The age of adulthood varied by jurisdiction.
        • Often, older men could "age out" of the tax, usually between the ages of 50 and 60.
      • Property tax.
        • This tax was sometimes levied on the person working the property, not the actual landowner.
      • Taxes on personal property, i.e. farm animals, carriages, slaves.
      • Taxes on investments, i.e. stocks, bonds, money lent out at interest.
      • Business, liquor and cigarette taxes.
      • Inheritance or estate taxes.
    • Tax records can be found at the local, county, state and federal levels.
    • Search Ancestry and FamilySearch for tax records.
    • The Family History Library in Utah has a large book collection that contains thousands of abstracted and indexed tax lists from around the country.
    • Tax lists are rarely alphabatized. Generally, tax collectors and assessors rode a circuit, and those listed near one another are neighbors.
  • US Gen Web
    • Free website ran by volunteers and organized by state.
    • Special projects include maps, tombstones, transcriptions, military pensions, census, etc.
  • USGS
    • National Atlas and Geographic Names Information System - will find obscure places and allow you to plot it on a map.
    • Contains historical topographic maps.
  • U.S. National Archives
    • Check out the Resources for Genealogists to get you started.
    • Contains U.S. documents such as census, land records, military records, passenger lists and passport applications.
    • Most of the records are not online or microfilmed. However, the website can help you find information about records you might want to research.
    • You can order records here.
  • Vaudeville Entertainers
    • American Vaudeville Museum contains a comprehensive list of vaudeville performer profiles and history articles.
    • The University of Iowa hosts the Keith/Albee Collection: The Vaudeville Industry, 1894-1935. You can access a finding aid here.
  • Western States Historical Marriage Records Index
  • Yearbooks: