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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • Currently available through 1940.
    • Don't forget to search the State Census records. They were often taken 5 years after the federal census.
  • Coal Miners:
  • Daughters of the American Revolution
    • Website/Library contains three interconnected databases: patriots, descendants of patriots, and DAR members.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • $ 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.
  • Land Records:
  • Marriage Records:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Passports:
    • Passport applications from 1795-1925 are accessible on National Archives microfilm (series M1372 and M 1490).
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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
    • 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.
  • Western States Historical Marriage Records Index
  • Yearbooks: