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Genealogical Research: Genealogical Sources

This guide contains information on how to conduct genealogical research.

Sites with Multiple Types of Records

Vital Records (Birth, Marriage, Death)

Research Tips

  • When searching for records, ask yourself: Who cares? What agency, municipality, or person cares enough about the information you're looking for to keep and organize it? Courts? Historical societies? At the local or national level? This will help you zero in better on a starting point.
  • Be mindful of what sources you're using. In genealogical research, primary source records are the most important, because they can easily be cited. Moreover, primary sources cannot be disputed.
  • Search for multiple spellings of names. Some collections may use the "Soundex" system, which brings together differently spelled names that sound the same. See the National Archives' explanation of Soundex.
  • Organization is key. Try to research one family line at a time -- researching multiple family lines at once may cause you to feel bogged down and subsequently become disorganized.
  • Don't use someone else's family tree for your own research. Personal genealogy websites and shared/public trees on websites such as are someone else's research, not yours. Their research may or may not be incorrect; it is up to you to locate accurate records and sources.

Other Places/People to Contact

If you know which state you need your information from, try consulting this list of state libraries and archives, and seeing what records they have available.

If you have a city or county in mind, try Googling that city or county with the words "archives" or "public records" to find a local agency.

Consult a list of "Repositories of Primary Sources" all over the globe (from the University of Idaho).

The library also owns a reference book called The Genealogist's Address Book, which can help you identify other local and nationality-specific sources.

    Other Useful Links

    Immigration Records

    Military Records

    Census Records

    Common Terminology

    Here is a list of commonly-used terms and their meanings:

    • Abstract - an abbreviated transcription of a document or record that includes relevant dates and names.
    • Alien - a citizen of a different country.
    • Bounty Land - land that was made available as a payment to military veterans in lieu of financial compensation. 
    • Census - an enumeration of the inhabitants of a certain area. Census records often include demographic information such as age, ethnic background, occupation, income, and more. The United States began collecting census data in 1790, and has done so every ten years since then. Unfortunately, most of the 1890 census was badly damaged during a fire in the Commerce Department Building in January 1921.
    • Church Records - records include christenings, baptisms, marriages, and burials.
    • City Directory - a precursor to the now obsolete telephone book. City Directories contain the names, addresses, and occupations of a city or town's residents.
    • Declaration of Intention - a document filed in a court by an alien, declaring their intention to become a citizen.
    • Emancipated - often refers to slaves; means free/freed.
    • Illegitimate - the offspring of a non-married couple.
    • Index - an alphabetical list of names taken from a set of records.
    • Maternal line - a direct family line, beginning with person #1's mother.
    • Naturalization - the process in which an alien becomes a citizen. Naturalization documents often include the alien's exact place of birth, names of family members, and occasionally the ship they came over on.
    • Passenger Manifest - a list of all passengers aboard a ship coming from a different country. These lists will occassionally include the passenger's town/city of origin, the name of a person they know along with their destination in their country of arrival.
    • Paternal Line - a direct family line, beginning with person #1's father.
    • Person #1 - the starting person in a family tree.
    • Primary Evidence - original or first-hand evidence (i.e. a diary, speech, or eye-witness account).
    • Primary Source - records created at the time of an event (i.e. a birth certificate).
    • Probate (inventory) - an inventory of a person's possessions, taken at the time of passing.
    • Schedule - term given to designate the type and form of a census. Examples include agricultural, mortality, manufacturing, and slave schedules.
    • Vital Records - birth, marriage, death, and divorce records.