Basic Research Records

When you start to research a family or person, what do you consider the “most important” records?  Where do you go first?  Which do you put the most faith in?

If you’re like most you start on the internet and probably, don’t you?  Census records?  Yes, of course you should go there ~ if you know where the person was and if he wasn’t named a common name like”William Sherman” or “Peter Wolf” as my ancestors are!

 The records I start with (whenever available) are, in no particular order:

  • Census Records – Depending on the year, again, you find an age range, number of children, wife’s age, occupation, and place of birth.  That’s a lot of information, all pieces to the puzzle.
  • Church Records (Births) – Parents names, birth date, baptism date, sponsors, religion and in some cases (Moravian records for instance) mother’s maiden name!  
  • Church Records (Marriages) – Both Parties names, ages, places of residence, in some cases occupations, parents names
  • Church Records (Deaths) – Date of death, date of burial, place of burial, in some cases age at death, birth date.
  • Tax Records – owner or renter?  What years did they live there?  Occupation, all of the above in some records
  • Deeds – Did they own property? When? Where? Did they sell it or lose it? How much was it worth?  Was it land or was there a structure on it?
  • Wills – How large was their estate?  Who did they leave it to? When did they die? When was the will proved? Did they have to sell property to settle the estate?  Where was the property?
  • Cemetery records – Date of Burial, lot number, persons buried around them (could be family) Age, Date of Death, Place of death in some instances
  • Obituaries – Depending on the newspaper, these can be goldmines!  They can list wife (and her maiden name) children’s names and their spouses, sister, brothers, parents, place of residence, occupation, organizations they belonged to and where they are buried.  
  • Newspapers – check articles around the date of their death or marriage or other important date.  They could have died in an accident and there may be an article about the accident.  If they were married over 50 years there may be an article on their Golden Wedding Anniversary and there may be a big write-up on their wedding.  Ancestry has newspapers, Genealogy Bank has newspapers and many, many other sites have digitalized newspapers.  They are an excellent source of information!
  • Family Bibles – If they are available, copy every record in them!  They are vital!  They were written by those who knew!  They may be misspelled, but that doesn’t matter.  They were written by your great grandfather, or great great grandmother, or even an aunt.  They are first person accounts!
  • Books! – County histories, Family histories, Church histories, Historical journals and anything else you can possibly think about.
  • Your local Historical Society – This is probably one of the most important resources you have!  There is usually somebody there that knows the county history by heart and can direct you to the right book or area.  They can suggest where to start and find out where you have looked so they won’t duplicate your efforts.  

These are just the tip of the iceburg.  I’ve found clues in prison records (yes!) divorce records, immigration records, guardian records, city directories and school histories, among other things.  Don’t overlook something you think doesn’t possibly apply to your family ~ you never know!  

Family legends tend to gloss over our ancestors imperfections. . . .


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