Genealogy Research Strategies

Tracing genealogy records has become a hobby for some people while for others it is an obsession. Those who have been adopted or find themselves a victim of the “system,” may have the need to find out who their parents are. This could be out of curiosity, but in many cases, it is the need to secure medical information. It can be a difficult chore if you have no idea how or where to begin your search. The Internet has made this task easier, especially with sites such as and, but they don’t always provide everything necessary to locate a person’s ancestors. Consider the following sources of information as you begin working on your genealogy.

Family Records

The most logical place to begin a genealogy search is with your own family records. You want to begin by asking relatives, both close and far away, if they have or know where you can obtain records or photos of the family. Things you want to secure include:

  • Birthday cards
  • Birth notices
  • Wedding announcements
  • Certificates and any public documents including driver’s licenses or any professional licenses

While these records may not provide all the information you are seeking about your family’s history, they will at least provide enough information for you to move forward with your search. Unfortunately, in some cases this initial phase provides very little information, but you shouldn’t give up if that happens. Maintain a log of all contact with family members to avoid duplication and to have a way to follow up later.

Vital Records

Vital records contain a great deal of information about family history and include birth, marriage, and death records. Before you can access these records, you will need to provide the dates and geographic areasof the records. Marriages and deaths have been recorded at different times and are contingent upon either the geographic or political area. Depending how far back you are attempting to search, some areas may not have records available. There are cases where the county of a person’s birth did not even maintain records until more recently. While this makes your search more difficult, it is not impossible.

Birth Records

Although it may seem a logical first step to research birth records, experts recommend researching death records first, then marriage records. Their recommendation is to research birth records third because they tend to be the most difficult record to locate. It is also possible to find birth records in other sourcessince birth records were not required by all states until well after the turn of the 20thcentury. Local churches may be able to help if they have records of births, christenings, and baptism dates. Since state and county governments began keeping birth records at different times, you need to check local state laws to find out whenthe earliest birth records are available.

Death Records

Death records are not always easy to locate, so it’s a good idea to search other records such as obituaries, mortuary records, burial records, memorials, purchase of gravesites and stones, , and similar records. You can use these to supplement your information or to help you locate an official death record. The death record is maintained by the jurisdiction where your ancestor died rather than where they were buried, and those records can help you locate where the family member is buried.Death records are helpful because they provide specific information such as date of birth, name of spouse, and names of parents. This information can help you locate other members of your family to complete your genealogy search.

Marriage Records

When searching for marriage records, there are many different sources available that may include wedding reception information, newspapers, church notices, marriage licenses and certificates, and Bann announcements. Marriage records areinvaluable information for those searching for genealogy records. Churches and civil authorities often maintained marriage records before they were required to do so for many life events. Local laws usually required the recording of a marriage whether it was a church or civil wedding. Records of marriage have always been recorded in many different ways. Most often these records are stored with the town clerk or county of the bride’s former residence, but earlier records may be stored in the state’s archives.

Census Records

During your genealogy search, you will discover the existence of both national and state censuses. The first recorded Federal census was in 1790 and continued until 1940. Unfortunately, information from the 1890 census is not available for all areas because a fire destroyed those records. The best solution there is to research the state in which you are interested to find out what years are available. You may also want to check for the possibility of an existing county and city census. You can check online for complete digital records of the census for different years although you may to subscribe to the website and pay a subscription fee.


Various directories were created to allow salesmen, merchants, and other interested parties to connect with residents of an area. The directories are arranged alphabetically and include both names and addresses. Many times,the directories also list the names of all the adults residing in a particular city or area. City and county directories that provide the names and addresses of local residents and business entities are the most helpful ones for those conducting genealogy research.

Church Records

The United States has an abundance of religious diversity and always has. It is not like other countries that have a “state church,” although this did exist during a few periods within some of the first colonies. Churches first began keeping records in the early part of the 1600s, but the United States had no requirement for civil registration or the recording of life events such as births, marriages, and deaths until sometime after the turn of the 20th centuryalthough some states began keeping records in the mid 17th century. In some cases, church records are the only available source of births, marriages, and deaths. These records can be a valuable source of information when vital records are non-existent.


An obituary does not necessarily need to be published, but it is still an announcement of someone’s death. It may be a simple notice of a couple of lines, or it can be what amounts to an elaborate biography of the deceased’s life. These notices can be helpful during a genealogy search because they include information about survivors and usually include the name of the person who died and either the date of death or date of burial. They also include the spouse’s name, parents’ names, children, what the deceased did for a living, his or her education, and the location of any living family members at the writing of the obituary. If you are searching prior to the 1960s or 1970s, it might be necessary to search newspaper collections.

Cemetery Records

Cemetery and burial records may sometimes be referred to as burial permits. These records are helpful to a genealogy researcher because they usually include information about the person’s birth, marriage, and death. The records can provide information concerning military service, religion, or the deceased person’s membership in an organization such as a lodge or private club. The records can provide information that is otherwise not available such as information about children who passed away at a very young age or women whose births were not recorded in any family or government records. In order to obtain the information, you can check the sexton’s records and visit the cemetery to assess whether there are any other relatives buried in adjoining plots. In order to obtain the information, it is necessary to know where the individual was buried.

Funeral Home Records

Funeral home or mortuary records can provide useful information that is not listed on the death certificate. For instance, these records may list any surviving relatives in the immediate family as well as names of other relatives such as grandchildren, in-laws, and others. The funeral home record may even show where those relatives lived at the time of your ancestor’s death and may even have a copy of the obituary and any notes the next of kin provided when presenting information for the obituary. Other information you may find includes former places of residence, education, the church with which the deceased was affiliated, club memberships, and organizations to which he or she belonged. These records can be very helpful in your quest to build your family tree.

Emigration and Immigration Records

Emigration is when a person leaves one country for another while immigration is the process of arriving and entering a new country. The emigration process is responsible for generating many different records. For instance, the home country may require the emigrant to obtain governmental permission to leave. If the emigrant abided by this law (which approximately 33 percent did not), you may be able to find an application or passport. Emigrants also needed to obtain a boarding passto board a ship traveling to new country. Each of these steps could have resulted in the creation of a record that provided the person’s name, age, any close relatives or traveling partner, and place of residence. You may find the same information in immigration records.

Naturalization and Citizenship

Naturalization means a person has been approved for citizenship in a country other than the one in which he was born or lived prior to arriving in the new country. The process is not the same in all countries, states, or dates. The records on file may vary as well. Earlier records in the United States provided the name, age, and country of origin of the immigrant. Recent records have more detailed information about the immigrant and his family history including where other relatives were born and lived. This provides you with an additional source of information to add to the research material for your family tree.

Military Records

Military records are formed both during wartime and peacetime. These records provide information about people who either served in one of the branches of the military or were eligible to do so. These records can provide you with information about any of your relatives who served in one of the branches of the military. You can find out whether a family member served in the military from family traditions, naturalization records, records from veteran’s organizations, cemetery records, biographies, and census records.Depending on the scope of your search, you are likely to find more information in later military records.


Even thought newspapers focus on world events, a country, state, or community, and may serve a general audience or specific ethnic, racial, political, or religious group, they also report family information such as births, marriages, and deaths. This is in addition to providing information about local news. Some of the information you might find by viewing newspapers include the following:

  • Birth announcements that may include the name of the baby, date of birth, names of the parents, and possibly the family’s religion.
  • Wedding announcements that provide the date and place of the marriage, names of the couple, names of the couple’s parents, and family’s religion.
  • Death notices and obituaries that may include a variety of information such as the residence of the deceased person’s friends and close relatives, the date of place of the person’s death, date and place of birth, and other biographical information such as religion, military service, schools he attended, occupation, and much more.
  • News stories, personal columns within the community, advertisements, legal notices, and any other amount of information the paper feels is of interest.

Probate Records

Probate records are created after an individual’s death and provide information concerning the distribution of the estate to the surviving family members or creditor. This also defines the deceased’s wishes regarding the care of any dependents. Even when there is a will, there is a need for probate to legalize distribution of the estate. The process causes the creation of various records that assess the wealth of the deceased. These documents are of great value to genealogists and should not be overlooked. In some cases, they are the only source of information that is relevant for those who wish to trace their family background and build a family tree. These records are essential for research because the information usually pre-dates any birth and death records.

Land and Property Records

For the most part land records are intended as tools to discover where a person lived and the dates he lived there. Many times, these records reveal other types of family information such as the spouse’s name, names of any heirs, other relatives, and maybe neighbors. Sometimes you will find information about his previous address, occupation, any military service, whether he was a citizen by birth or naturalization, and other clues that may help with research.

Colonial Records

The earliest records from colonial times date all the way back to the European discovery of North America. There are also censuses for some towns and counties within the British colonies of North America. You may also find some lists of early residents called censusesthat have been reconstructed from those early records such as tax and land records. These records may be helpful in your search, especially if you are searching before other types of records existed.

Territorial Records

Territorial censuses were used to petition for statehood, for taxation, and to apportion the legislature. The Federal government required information concerning the population of territories in order to assess whether the populations in certain states were sufficient to apply for statehood. Most of these censuses are typically incomplete and very few are indexed. You may find the information helpful if you are searching in 1885 in Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, and the Dakota Territory (now known as North  Dakota and South Dakota).

Court Records

In most cases, genealogists search court records after they have investigated all other records; however, you should not overlook these records. Court records can show family relationships as well as places of residence. You may also be able to discover information about an individual’s occupations, descriptions of an individual, and helpful information about family history. The process is not easy and might be intimidating.

Town and Land Records

Local histories can be a great asset and provide valuable information for any person interested in researching United States genealogy. Many areas in America have histories available beginning with the earliest settlements in the 1600s. The histories may include information about events, ethnic groups, counties, cities, towns, states, and the United States itself. These histories often include short biographies of people and families that lived in the area during that time. Sometimes the histories were written in celebration of an anniversary such as the Centennial celebration of a town or colony’s founding.

Additional Resources

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