Beginner Genealogy Information


Some records that may help you with your genealogy research are:

  • Census Records
  • Birth/Death Certificates and Records
  • Immigration Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Military Records
  • Land/Property Records

What data may be found by searching the above records:

Census Records

The first census record was taken in 1790 and again every ten years afterward up to the present.  Since there is a 72-year restriction for access to the census the records available to the public only go up to 1930.  The 1940 census will not become available until the year 2012, 1950 census will become available in 2022, 1960 census will become available in 2032, etc.

The Census Records from 1790 to 1840 will show the following:

      • head of household name
      • number of members in the household sorted by age groups, sex, and slaves

The Census Records from 1850 to 1930 will show the following:

      • family member names
      • ages at time census was taken
      • birthplace of parents and family member
      • street address
      • marriage status and years married
      • number of children living and deceased
      • occupation
      • value of home
      • year of immigration and sometimes naturalization

Not all of this information will be found on each census.

Birth/Death Certificates and Records

In general, most states did not keep records of births or deaths until the early 1900s.  Some records prior to this time may be located at the county records office if they recorded any of these records.

For birth and death certificates, this will vary from state to state since the laws of each state can differ and may also depend on the relationship between yourself and the family member you are researching.  Most birth certificates for deceased family members that are provided will show the given name of the family member, the date of birth, sex, race, where born and the parents' names. 

The death certificates may provide the name of the deceased family member, date of death, cause of death, residence at time of death, name of informant, doctor that was caring for deceased, name of hospital or institution, parents' names, name of spouse, funeral home, and name of cemetery.  Keep in mind the amount and accuracy of information provided will depend on how much information was given and known by the informant and what access to these records your state allows.

Marriage Records

Marriage records can provide information of when a couple was married, the county the marriage took place in, the name of the person who performed the marriage and the person who acted as a witness.

The county health department for your state/county is a good place to start and can usually provide the necessary requirements to obtain a birth or death certificate or marriage or divorce record.  You can visit the following link to find the required information for your area:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Immigration Records

These records are sometimes called "passenger lists" and provide information of the ship name, date of arrival and departure, passenger name, what country they came from, destination and occupation.  These records will vary and not all of the information mentioned will be present for each passenger list.  Prior to January 1, 1820 the U.S. Government did not require passenger lists to be recorded.  This information can be found on microfilm and in books at various libraries.  Another valuable resource for this information is the  Ellis Island Foundation  website.

Military Records

The National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR) is where the military records of discharged and deceased veterans of the military during the 20th century are held. 

Contact information to request military records prior to World War I:

National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100

Telephone: 314-801-0800
Status Check:
Fax: 314 801-9195

Records prior to WWI are held in Washington, DC at the National Archives Building.

Land Records

The land records that are generally of most interest to genealogists are the land entry case files. These are records that document the transfer of public lands from the U.S. Government to private ownership.

There are over ten million such individual land transactions in the custody of the National Archives. These case files cover land entries in all 30 public land states.

The case files were filed as either military bounty land warrants, pre-1908 general land entry files, or as post-1908 land entry files. The information required to access and order copies of the records will differ depending on which of these 3 categories the transaction falls into.

For land records in the remaining 20 states that were never part of the original public domain, check the State Archives for that particular state. This includes the original 13 colonies, plus Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Related Land Records

Tract Books:

There are also tract books available relating to the land entry case files. These are arranged by the legal description of the land: by township, range, section, etc. Tract books are divided into two geographical areas, Eastern States and Western States

For the Western States, the tract books are located in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. This includes the states of: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

For the Eastern States, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has the tract books and patents. This includes the states of: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

For these Eastern State tract books, contact:

Eastern States Office, Bureau of Land Management
Department of the Interior (BLM-ESO)
7450 Boston Boulevard
Springfield, VA 22153

Land Patents:

Land patents are the legal documents that transferred land ownership from the U.S. Government to individuals. Now you can search for land patent records online, for both Eastern and Western states. See the Bureau of Land Management's Land Patent Search page.

Please note that this includes only patented or completed land entries. Those case files that were cancelled or relinquished will not be there, and may contain just as much useful information for the researcher. For this information, researchers will need to access the tract books.

How Land Records Can Help You:

Land case entry files can contain a wealth of genealogical and legal information. Depending upon the type and time period of the land entry, the case file may yield only a few facts already known to the researcher or it may present new insights about ancestors, family history, title, and land use issues. For example, the records may attest to the one's age, place of birth, citizenship, military service, literacy, and economic status, and may even include similar information about family members. But even the smallest case files can establish locations of land ownership or settlement and dates essential to utilize other resources at NARA, such as census, court, and military service and pension records.

Submitted by C. Anthony


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