Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where do I look for sources?

Did you know that genealogy is everywhere? Sometimes we get in ruts and don't enlarge our scope of thinking about places to search for that piece of evidence that would point to the date of our ancestor's birth, marriage or death.

Now some of the documents listed below may not give you an actual date of the event but they may give you a clue. For example, land deeds aren't going to provide a death date but they may show a widow and/or her children selling land after her husband dies. An ancestor may be shown paying taxes year after year and then he disappears from the tax roll.

In some cases you can find the documents listed through an online subscription site or you may find them by researching at a library, archive or museum. Don't forget to use the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) and the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) as you research.

Here are the first 20 resources to look for.

1. State Vital Record Certificates
This is usually the first source we look for, the birth, marriage or death certificate of an ancestor. While this should be our first stop, remember that states differ on when they required vital record registration. Information may be found about where to order these from Also check out genealogy subscription sites like WorldVitalRecords for indexes. FamilySearch has some digitized images. Additionally, some states have digitized images of their vital records certificates. For more information check out Online Death Indexes and Online Birth and Marriage Indexes.

2. World War I Draft Registration
Available from some genealogy subscription sites, the World War I draft registration is going to pertain to your male ancestor born between 1872-1900. To learn more about this draft, read the book Uncle, We Are Ready! By John J Newman.

3. World War II Draft Registration (Old Man's Draft)
Available from WorldVitalRecords. Because of privacy restrictions, this is currently the only draft registration available to use for the World War II era. Taken in 1942, the Old Man's draft was for men who were born on or between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897. These men were between 45 and 64 years at the time of the registration.

4. Midwife Diary
Diaries and journals are typically available by searching a university library website, museum, archive or NUCMC. A few midwife journals have been published including Martha Ballard's. The value of a midwife's diary is that it includes information not only on the births she attended but also how she assisted other family members while the mother recuperated. Don't underestimate the value of the writings of your ancestor's neighbors.

5. Military Pensions
Military pensions can provide lots of great info about the soldier and in some cases the wife. Don't forget that there are more than just the pensions given out by the federal government. After the Civil War, the former Confederate states had to pay out their own pensions. You can find more information about what types of pensions were given out and when by checking out state archives. I would also recommend the William Dollarhide book, Genealogical Resources of the Civil War Era, for information about Civil War research.

6. Birthday Books
Birthday Books were like autograph books that Victorians kept that listed names and birthdates. You will most likely find these in a manuscript collection kept at a museum, library or archive. Search NUCMC for the locality you are researching.

7. Scrapbooks
Scrapbooking is not a new craze, the Victorians loved scrapbooking and they pasted newspaper clippings about their family, friends and neighbors in their scrapbooks. In some cases scrapbooks were donated and are part of manuscript collections. Conduct a locality search in NUCMC for possible hits as well as a search through a university library, museum or archive in the area you are researching.

8. Social Security Death Index
You can search the Social Security Death Index for free on WorldVitalRecords. The Social Security Death Index contains over 86 million records of deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration. This file includes the following information on each decedent, if the data are available to the Social Security Administration: Social Security number, name, date of birth, date of death, state or country of residence (prior to March 1988), ZIP code of last residence, and ZIP code of lump sum payment.
It's important to understand the limitations of the Social Security Death Index. The Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935. Only those who received Social Security benefits or were reported to Social Security as being deceased will be listed. Those who never paid into Social Security such as those who worked exclusively for the Railroad will not be listed.

9. U.S. Federal Census
Each census year provides a clue to the age of your ancestor. In addition, the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Census each has a column that asks how many years the person has been married in the present marriage.

10. State Census
Some states, but not all participated in a state census. To learn more about which states participated and online links to records, check out Genealogy Research Guides-State Census Records. In some cases you will need to order the state census on microfilm from the Family History Library.

11. Religious Census
Church records encompass a large scope of various types of documents that can help with your research. One type of record that was kept by the Mormons and the Catholics is a church wide census. These census records provide information on each family and can be valuable to your research. Look for these records through the Family History Library or a church archive.

12. Newspapers
Newspapers provide much more to your research than just a place to find obituaries. Newspapers provide birth announcements, articles about 50th wedding anniversaries, funeral notices, legal notices and more. More and more digitized newspapers are making this research easier. At WorldVitalRecords we have a large collection of newspapers from Newspaper Archive and Paper of Record. You can also find newspaper digitized through state digitization projects like the Utah Digital Newspapers. You can also find newspapers through state archives as well. Check out the Kansas State Historical Society who has a large collection of newspapers from throughout the United State, available to researchers on microfilm through interlibrary loan.

13. Cemetery Records
Depending on the type of cemetery your ancestor is buried in, you may find records that provide a lot of information including cause of death and next of kin, you may find records that simply state where the person is buried or there may not be any records at all. Check with the owner of the cemetery, in some cases a city, county, church or private institution, for what information they have on your ancestor's burial.

14. Funeral Home Records
Funeral Homes have been around since about the time of the U.S. Civil War. What was once a family business has grown to include corporations that own many homes in different cities. Funeral home records are private business records and may be stored or disposed of according to the wishes of the business owner. When inquiring about records, be patient and considerate of the work the Home does with those who are dealing with the recent death of a family member.

15. Gravestones
The dates listed on a gravestone may provide clues to the birth and death of an ancestor. But remember, these are secondary sources and could be incorrect. In some cases, gravestones hold much more information than a birth and death. I've seen the names of children, information about the couple, including marriage information included on a stone.

16. County History Books (Mug Books)
County History Books, also referred to as Mug Books are important books detailing the history of an area, including autobiographical data. Although this data needs to be verified, in some cases the subject of the biography may have exaggerated or accidentally provided incorrect dates for family events, it is a good place to look for information.

17. Land Records
While land records don't provide vital records information per se they may provide valuable clues about the death or a person. Following a parcel of land through time may point to clues to when your ancestor died.

18. Plat Maps
Plat maps are a great way to see the connections between your ancestor and their community. Marriages between neighbors and other relationships can be traced by looking at those near your ancestor. It is also a good way to find nearby cemeteries during the time of your ancestor.

19. Funeral Cards
Given to those who attended a funeral, funeral cards hold valuable information about the birth and death of a person. Largely found as a home source, there is one genealogy subscription, Genealogy Today that has a database of over 23,000 names from funeral cards.

20. Photographs
Look for clues in photographs for weddings, births, postmortem photographs and even family gatherings at funerals. While photographs are largely a home source, either your home source or a long lost cousin's, there are websites like Dead Fred that seeks to reunite photographs with their descendents.