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Family Research

Genealogical Research I

Originally posted in GERMAN-AMERICAN-L by Nancy Ring-Kendrick on Tue, 05 Jan 1999 .

Unless you are a king, the President, or some other notable, finding your ancestors and making sure a "family tree" is kept for future generations may be up to you. The National Archives staff does not do family research, no does it collect or preserve family trees. Books on family history and genealogy are compiled and published by individuals or family groups who do so because they are interested in discovering and preserving their family history.

Start With Yourself:

You are the beginning "twig" on your family tree. Start with the known - yourself - and work toward the unknown. Find the vital information about your parent and write it down. Next, look for information about your grandparents, then earlier generations.

Begin at home. Look for information in family Bibles, newspaper clippings, military certificates, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, the backs of pictures, and babybooks.

Be concerned with extracting four items: names, dates, places and relationships. These are the keys of the family researcher. People can be identified in records by their names, by the dates of events in their lives (birth, marriage, death) by the places where they lived, and by their relationships to others, either stated or implied.


Visit or write to relatives in your family who may have information, particularly older relatives. Often, others before you have already gathered family data. You should write letters, make personal visits, and conduct telephone surveys to locate such persons and to find out what information is already collected. Advertise your family interests in national, regional, and local genealogical magazines. These magazines are usually available in public libraries.

Non-Federal Records:

Vital Statistics. Some states began to keep records of birth and death earlier, but, for MOST of the United States, birth and death registration became a requirement around the turn of the century (ca. 1890-1915). Before the turn of the century, births and deaths were recorded, GENERALLY, only in church records and family Bibles. Marriage records will be found in most counties, often dating from the establishment of the county.

Deeds and Wills. Record of property acquisition and disposition can be good genealogical sources. Such records normally are in county courthouses. Often the earliest county records (or copies of them) are also available in state archives.

Visit state, regional, and local institutions in your area. Libraries, historical and genealogical societies, and archival depositories are all good sources for genealogical and family history data. Be sure to find out what books are available on ho to do genealogical research."

Census Schedules - Population Censuses:

"A census of the population has been taken every 10 years since 1790. The National Archives has the 1790-1870 schedules, a microfilm copy of the 1880 schedules, the surviving fragments of the 1890 schedules, and a microfilm copy of the 1900 and 1910 schedules. (Practically all of the 1890 census schedules were destroyed by fire in 1921. The remaining entries are for small segments of the populations of Perry County, AL, the District of Columbia, Columbus, GA, Mound Township, IL, Rockford, MN, Jersey City, NJ, Eastchester and Brookhaven Township, NY, Cleveland and Gaston Counties, NC, Cincinnati and Wayne Township, OH, Jefferson Township, SD, and Ellis, Hood, Kaufman, Rusk, and Trinity Counties, TX)

The 1790 - 1840 schedules give the names of the head of household ONLY; other family members are tallied unnamed by age and sex. For the 1850 and 1860 censuses, separate schedules list slaveowners and the age, sex, and color (but not the name) of each slave. The 1850 and 1860 schedules include the name, age, and state, territory, or country of birth of each FREE person in a household. Additional information is included with each succeeding census.

The available schedules for the 1790 census were published by the federal government in the early 1900's and have since been privately reprinted. The published census schedules for 1790 are for Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and Vermont. Schedules for each state are listed in a separate, indexed volume. The schedules for the remaining states - Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia - were burned during the War of 1812. And as a substitute for the Virginia schedules, the federal government publish names obtained from state censuses and tax lists, thereby listing about half of the known population of the state in 1790. Over the years additional lists of names have been published privately, and they provide more of the missing information for Virginia and other states whose 1790 schedules were destroyed. The government has not published other census listings, but many privately published lists are available from libraries and other sources. Although the lists vary considerably in format and geographic scope, they frequently save researchers from fruitless searches and help locate a specific entry in the actual records.


Also helpful in locating specific census entries are the following unpublished indexes in the National Archives Building:

  • 1810 Census - a card index for Virginia only.
  • 1880 Census - a microfilm copy of a card index to entries for each household that included a child aged 10 or under. On the cards are the name, age, and birthplace of each member of such households, and there is a separate cross-reference card for each child aged 10 or under whose surname is different from that of the head of the household in which he is listed. The cards are arranged by state and thereunder by the Soundex system, that is, alphabetically by the first letter of the surname, thereunder alphabetically by given name of the head of the household.
  • 1890 Census - a card index to the 6,160 names on the surviving 1890 schedules.
  • 1900 Census - a microfilm copy of a card index to all heads of families. Otherwise, content is similar to the 1880 index.
  • 1910 Census - a microfilm copy of an index to all heads of families in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Content of the index is similar to the 1880 index.

Other Census:

The National Archives has the 1890 special schedules of Union veterans and widows of veterans for Washington, DC, about half of Kentucky, and for states in alphabetical order from Louisiana through Wyoming. Schedules for other states no longer exist. The schedules five the name and post office address of each living veteran and of each veteran's widow (along with the name of her deceased husband) and information about the service of each veteran named."

The above information comes from the National Archives and Records Administration, General Information Leaflet Number 5.

To find the regional address for the National Archives near you just click: http://www.pclink.com/tar/addresses.htm [this address does not exist any more].

last changed: April 3, 1999
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