Eleven Key Record Groups Where Your Ancestors are Hiding

By Dayna Jacobs, AG®  www.ongrannystrail.com

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We often overlook key record groups in our search for elusive ancestors, or we don’t know the value in accessing certain kinds of records.  Too narrow a focus can keep us from making breakthroughs in our research.  Expanding our searches to include a variety of record groups will lead to positive results. Learn to look for clues in one record which will lead you to a record in a different record group. 

Here are eleven key record groups where your ancestors are “hiding”.  Quality research will include all of these groups, and a thorough researcher will seek out records in whatever format they exist—digital, microform, or textual.

CENSUS

  • In the U.S., every ten years beginning in 1790
  • State censuses in-between sometimes
  • Provide information on birth, marriage, occupation, children, and more

MILITARY

  • The United States has been involved in at least 15 wars and multiple Indian wars 
  • Even when the country was not at war men enlisted in the military
  • Military records are plentiful, contain valuable genealogical information, and can be found for almost any family

LAND

  • Land records are the earliest sources available to us as genealogists
  • They apply to more people than any other type of record in the U.S.
  • By the mid-1800’s approximately 90% of adult white males owned land

NEWSPAPERS

  • Newspapers recorded events in the daily lives of our ancestors
  • Besides births, marriages, and deaths, we read about their coming and going, visitors, accidents, celebrations, local government, new buildings and businesses, opinions about current events —all the things that were important in their lives

CHURCH

  • Church records pre-date official government vital records
  • They can be found in places where government records have been destroyed
  • Churches were a central part of communities and people’s lives
  • Many kinds of church records besides vital events

PROBATE AND COURT

  • Probate generated many kinds of records
  • Someone who died intestate still had to have their estate settled
  • Early court records were a record of everyday happenings in communities

DIRECTORIES

  • City directories give us more than names and addresses
  • Other kinds of directories besides city

HISTORIES

  • Always learn the history of the places where your ancestor lived
  • Histories can have abstracts of other records in them, biographical sketches, and origins of the settlers

MAPS

  • Maps can solve genealogy puzzles
  • Geography helps us to understand our ancestors’ community life and movements
  • Maps help us to know where to look for records

MANUSCRIPT COLLECTIONS

  • Letters
  • Photos
  • Private papers
  • Any kind of original, unpublished document

IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION

  • Ship’s passenger records can provide birth data, a physical description, names of relatives and destinations
  • Immigration generated other kinds of records when our ancestors wanted to become citizens

STRATEGIES FOR FINDING RECORDS

  • Digitized
  • Microfilmed
  • Original
  • Compiled

Digitized Records

Start with:

  • FamilySearch. 
    • Click on “Search” then “Records,” and enter a locality for a list of Indexed Historical Records for that locality.  Search on all levels (town, county, state, country).  Be sure to expand the list to show all. 
    • Also look at the list of Image-Only Historical Records for unindexed digitized records.  NOTE:  All FamilySearch microfilms have been digitized, but not all have been indexed.  Use the “Browse” feature for these.
    • Alternate method:  Click on “Search” then “Catalog,” then search by locality
  • Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, American Ancestors, or websites which specialize in records for a particular country. All have extensive collections of digitized records.
  • Fold3 for U.S. military records
  • GenealogyBank, Newspapers.com, etc. Quite a few subscription newspaper sites now.  Also search for a state’s digitized newspaper project.
  • State and National Archives, and state libraries.  All host collections of digitized records.
  • Online consortiums.  One website can host digital collections for multiple specialized or local libraries and archives.

Microfilmed Records

  • Not all microfilm (apart from the FHL) has been digitized, and not all FHL microfilm that has been digitized is available to view online.
  • Familysearch.org
    • If a digitized record is not available to view online, you may find it in a FHC or other institution
  • Look at online catalogs for libraries and archives
    • Worldcat
    • Archive Grid
    • State libraries and archives
    • Online consortiums

Original Records

For help in finding original records:

  • Familysearch Wiki research pages.
    • On Familysearch click “Search” & “Wiki”
  • ArchiveGrid
    • Find archives by locality
    • Access their online catalogs
  • Reference books and guides for your locality or subject
  • Contact repository and order records, hire a researcher, or visit yourself

Compiled Records

  • FamilySearch
    • Click “Search” and “Catalog” then enter locality.
    • For non-digitized books, click on “View this catalog record in WorldCat for other possible copy locations”
    • Click “Search” and “Books” for family and local histories
    • Search FamilySearch Wiki for a locality and suggested records
  • Linkpendium
  • CyndisList
  • WorldCat
  • Internet Archive

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