A summary of common types of genealogy records for the United States and ways they may be useful in your research
Our records directory uses various categories to classify genealogical records. Below is a summary of the different types and how they can be used.
Birth Records Birth records are created at the time of the birth of an individual. Birth records list the date of birth and parents' names and sometimes information about the parents. Birth records could have been recorded by the local government or occasionally recorded in the local newspaper. Local churches also sometimes recorded births or christenings.
Some U.S. states did not record births until the 1900s. If there are not birth records available this page explains other types of records that can also give birth information and names of parents.
Recent birth certificates may be protected by privacy laws, which vary by state, and can generally be ordered from the state government for a fee.
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Marriage Records Marriage records are created at the time of a marriage of a couple. Marriage records list the marriage date and names of the couple and often they list the ages, birth date, names of parents, and/or names of witnesses as well. Marriages could have been recorded by the government, in local churches, or in the local newspaper.
Many U.S. states did not record marriages until the 1900s or the records kept were not very detailed.
Recent marriage certificates may be protected by privacy laws, which vary by state, and can generally be ordered from the state government for a fee.
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Death Records Death records are created at the time of death of an individual. Death records usually include the date of death and the place of death and they may include details such as birth date and place, names and birth places of parents, last place of residence, and the name of the informant providing the information. Death records could have been recorded by the local government, by a local church where the family attended, or in the local newspaper. Because the information on death records was given by others and not the deceased person, some information may not be correct.
Some U.S. states did not record deaths until the 1900s, in which case cemetery records and newspapers may be needed to obtain death information.
Recent death certificates may be protected by privacy laws, which vary by state, and can generally be ordered from the state government for a fee.
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Cemetery Records Cemetery records may include images or transcriptions of tombstones or other burial records kept by the cemetery. Cemetery records typically list a person's name and birth and death dates. Family members were often buried near each other.
Some people buried in a cemetery may not have a current tombstone marker, particularly if they died previous to the mid to late 1800s.
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Census Records Federal census records were recorded in the United States every 10 years starting in 1790 until the present.
Census records from 1790 to 1840 list only the head of household by name with tally marks indicating the sex and ages of other household members.
Census records from 1850 to 1950 list all members of a household with full names, ages, place of birth, and other details. The 1890 census was lost. Census records after 1950 are not yet openly available.
Some states recorded censuses in other years, which vary by state.
Census records are not always completely accurate, but they can be a valuable tool for tracking your ancestor through time and finding their family members. Each census recorded somewhat different information, so it can be helpful to find your ancestor in every census possible.
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Newspapers and Obituaries Local newspapers recorded a variety of information about people in the area where the newspaper was published. Obituaries or death notices were often recorded a few days after a person's death and may include information such as death date, age at death, birth information, names of parents, or names of residences of living relatives. Marriages and births may also have been recorded in newspapers.
Detailed obituaries were not common previous to the 1880s and deaths may not have been recorded in newspapers at all previous to the mid to late 1800s.
Sometimes there wasn't a local newspaper printed in a particularly town but people in that town may have been mentioned in a newspaper in a town or larger city nearby.
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Church Records Church records kept by churches may include information such as births, marriages, deaths, burials, christenings, membership lists, names of ministers, etc. Locating church records in the United States can be challenging because some churches did not record anything, some records were kept but have since been lost or the records are kept in many locations. Some denominations that often recorded births/christenings, marriages, and deaths/burials include Catholics, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Reformed churches, Presbyterians, and others. Locate Church Records
Probate Records Probate records may have been created by a court responsible to administer a person's land and/or assets after their death. Probate records may include a variety of documents such as wills, letters of administration, inventories of estates, guardianships of young children, etc.
Probate records often list names of the relatives of the deceased and may give financial or other details.
Probate records were usually among the first records kept in a newly settled area and can provide valuable information when other records are not available.
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Land Records Land records include land deeds, land grants, plat maps, or other records related to land.
Deeds typically involve a purchase or transfer of property from one individual or group of individuals to another. Deeds usually include a description of the land, the names of the parties involved in the transaction, the amount of money involved, and names of witnesses to the deed. Occasionally deeds can help to establish a place and time of residence for an individual, list former or future residences of an individual, list family members and their relationships, imply dates of marriage or death, or list the names of close neighbors.
Land maps and plat maps can help to establish where the land was that a person owned and who their neighbors were.
Land records were usually among the first records kept in a newly settled area and can provide valuable information when other records are not available.
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City Directories City directories were published books that contained lists of names and addresses for people in a specific town or city for a particular year. The information in a directory was generally gathered in the previous year. For example, a 1935 city directory will list information about people living in that city in 1934. City directories can help you to establish your ancestor's residence in a certain place at a certain time, and they can give information about a person's occupation, home address, name of a spouse, and names of neighbors.
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Military Records Military records pertain to the military in some way. There are a variety of military records that were created because of the involvement of the United States in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, etc.
Military records in some cases can give birth information, residences, names of family members, details of military service, etc
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Histories and Genealogies Histories and genealogies are published books or collections that contain genealogical information. They may include county histories, town histories, other types of histories, collections of biographies, genealogies of families, collections of records for a specific area, etc.
Understanding the history of the area where your ancestor lived can be helpful to understand what their life may have been like and to give background information or other clues that can be helpful.
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Immigration Records Immigration records pertain to people moving from one country to another and can include ship passenger lists, naturalization documents, immigration/emigration information, etc.
Passenger lists often give names and ages of individuals and sometimes their place of origin. If people traveled with family members they were usually listed together on the passenger lists.
Naturalization documents can list a person's name, age, witnesses, and place of origin. In some cases, women were not required to naturalize separately from their husbands. Before 1906 in the United States, naturalization documents sometimes only listed a home country rather than a specific town or city where a person came from. Since 1906, more detailed information has been included in naturalization documents.
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School Records School records are created by schools, colleges, and universities. They may include lists of students, yearbooks, school censuses, school histories, or other records. Yearbooks may contain photographs of individuals attending the school and information about the school activities they were involved in.
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Tax Records Tax records can include tax lists, enumeration lists, and other taxation information recorded by the local or national government. They may help to establish a person's residence, help to distinguish people of the same name in the same place, indicate the financial status of a family, or give indirect evidence of death and family members.
Tax records were usually among the first records kept in a newly settled area and can provide valuable information when other records are not available.
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Court Records Court records are created by the court system. Each state has a different set of laws about how the court system is structured, so the types of records available and where they are held vary greatly. Court records can give details about a person's life that may not be available elsewhere, and they may give clues that can be helpful for establishing the family, neighbors, or friends of an individual.
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Minority Records Minority records contain information about a particular minority or ethnic group. Some of the minority groups in the United States about which there may be records include African Americans, Native Americans, Germans, Irish, Scottish, Scandinavians, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Jews, etc.
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Map Records Maps can be helpful to learn more about your ancestor and where they lived. Maps can also be helpful to understand the geography of an area at a particular time so that you can better establish where to search for records. For example, county boundaries often changed over time as people moved to an area, therefore a person could have lived in more than one county even if they lived on the same piece of land. Looking at the historical maps can help you know which county your ancestor was living in at a particular time so that you search the records in that county.
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Miscellaneous Records Miscellaneous records include records that can helpful for genealogy research that don't fit in the above categories such as Bible records, periodical indexes, town records, lists of settlers, store ledgers, account books, lists of people in a certain occupation and place, passport applications, occupational records, government records, historical documents, and various other historical and genealogical records.
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