Genealogy records

Public records provide an illuminating insight into the past. We'll list some of the most important documents and resources genealogists use in their work.

Vital records - consisting of birth, marriage, divorce and death - are a great help finding useful information about your ancestors and provide clues for further research. In the United States, many states began recording vital records in the late 19th or early 20th century. You can often find vital records at the local town or county level.

From the last century, The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) engaged in a large scale program of copying all available records of genealogical value and an index of the submissions of its members on microfilm.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI) contains hundreds of millions of records of individuals who lived between 1500 and 1900, primarily in the US, Canada and Europe. The Ancestral File (AF) database represents the contributions of Church members. The two major databases include precious data like the International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File, the 1880 US Federal Census, and the Social Security Death Index.

A list of records that can be used in genealogy research:

  • Vital records: birth, death, marriage and divorce
  • Cemetery, funeral records, obituaries and tombstones
  • Poorhouse, almshouse, workhouse and asylum records
  • Immigration, emigration and naturalization records
  • Social Security Administration records
  • Christening and baptism records
  • Biographies and biographical profiles
  • Census records
  • Occupational records
  • Adoption records
  • Land and homestead records
  • City directories
  • Telephone books
  • Coroner's reports
  • Medical records
  • School records
  • Tax records
  • Voter registration records
  • Various organization records
  • Criminal records
  • Military records
  • Old newspapers
  • Family Bibles
  • Wills
  • Diaries
  • Personal letters
  • Passports
  • Photographs
  • Ship passenger lists
  • Pension records

There are also many free online genealogy research sites on the Internet like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org with large searchable databases.

How reliable are these records? Researchers must consider the effects that copying and compiling errors may have had on the information from any source. Each time a document is copied, information about the record may be lost and/or errors may creep in from mistyping, misreading or miswriting the information. Compiled sources such as online pedigree databases and published genealogies are also easily susceptible to misidentification errors and incorrect conclusions based on circumstantial evidence.

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