Home > Mom's Life > Family Relationships > Family History and Genealogy > How to Find and Use Genealogical Documents
|

How to Find and Use Genealogical Documents

Brought to you in association with The Ellis Island Foundation.

You might have always wondered about your grandparents — what were their names? Had they ever come to America? You can ask your family these questions, but they might not know the answers. We will explain how to use public documents to gather more information about your ancestors.

Facts about your family are just sitting on shelves and in file cabinets and desk drawers, waiting for you to find them. As a genealogist, one of your jobs will be figuring out how to get at those facts.

There are hundreds of places where information about your family may be found, because from the moment your ancestors set foot in America, someone was writing down their names. Did they arrive on a ship, by bus, or by plane? There's probably a record of it somewhere. Did they get married, divorced, have children, die? Forms had to be filled out, and those forms are on file in some office. Did they apply for American citizenship, a passport, social security? Did they ever vote? Somewhere in the United States, there are records of all of that. And the information on these records can help you find out a great deal about the people in your past.

The most important documents for genealogists are:

  • Vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates)
  • Religious records
  • Cemetery records
  • Census forms
  • Citizenship papers
  • Passenger ship lists
  • Military records
  • Other records like school records, deeds, and wills

You'll want to track down these records because they often have information that no one remembers. A copy of your grandmother's birth certificate, for example, might tell you about her parents — your great-grandparents — that grandma herself has forgotten. A copy of a long-gone ancestor's marriage license may hold clues to relatives even further back.

You will find these documents by writing to, or visiting, records centers, libraries, archives, government offices, and courthouses. In some cases, you will be able to look at the documents yourself; in other cases, you will have to pay a small fee and let other people look for you.

This process is called a "document search." You'll be surprised at how many different kinds of documents there are, and how many places you may have to search to find the ones you're looking for. Some of the records may be photocopied or on microfilm. Other places may have the original paper, signed by your ancestor, and it may be 100 or more years old.

|


highlights

Happy Surfing! 5 Safe Search Engines for Kids
These safe search engines for kids offer pre-screened sites and age-appropriate filters and content, so your child can have the freedom to browse the Internet while you have peace of mind that he's safe online.

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!

Best School Supplies of 2015
It's time to stock up on the latest and greatest school supplies! Make sure your child has all the trendy accessories and must-have classroom staples he needs.

Ready for Kindergarten?
Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks