These basic sources supply the essential genealogy information to build an accurate family tree:
Marriage and Divorce Records. Did you know that there are at least 16 original marriage records and more than 175 sources with marriage evidence? Marriage is the beginning of the family unit, and the marriage record provides the given name and surname of the mother of the family—sometimes her nickname. Marriage records supply the father’s legal surname and sometimes signatures. Since the average marriage lasted seven years in Colonial times, you can expect to find more than one marriage for most ancestors. Don’t give up too soon in your search for these essential facts.
Census Records, Inhabitant Lists, and Census Substitutes. More than 30 different kinds of census enumerations were recorded throughout Colonial America before 1800. These early records can be matched with other records to identify the members of the household by name. No other source category is better indexed or has such uniform and consistent data fields. And the census records are more easily searched than any other American records. Special search strategies can reveal “hidden” migration evidence often overlooked in your rush to gather ancestors quickly.
Probate and Other Court Records. Over 95% of all American adults have appeared in at least one court during their lifetimes. These records are essential to your genealogy, and ignoring or by-passing their data usually leads to an incorrect lineage or a connection to the wrong place of origin. So plunge in and gather the evidence for your ancestors and their relatives—currently known or not. Begin with printed transcripts or abstracts. They usually index everyone named. Then search the originals—just be sure you search the originals!
Land and Tax Records. Tax records list most adult males who live in a given area, age 16 years on. They are generally recorded annually, although some localities record their population every six months! At what age can persons own land? Buy and sell land? Gift land to others? Does land come from the husband’s family or from the wife’s relatives? How do you read a deed? Are witnesses related to the people named in the documents? Which Jacob is mine? Search the tax lists first, the patents and grants next, the deeds last.
Births and Deaths. You have no idea what source will yield birth dates and places of death before official vital records are recorded in each state. For example, transfers of property title that list proof of death for the owner or tax rolls where the clerk recorded year of birth or the father’s name to differentiate between men of the same name and locality. Until you search the records, these early sources of birth and death will remain “hidden.” Search them later rather than first so you know the names of relatives and neighbors connected to your family of interest. This will help you distinguish between your ancestor and others of the same name or those recorded in the same places.
Cemetery and Burial Records. Tombstones—in the cemetery and outside it—can be found online in digital databases or transcribed in card files in local libraries and archives. The correct spelling of ethnic and foreign names as well as exact origins may be recorded in these records. Somehow it didn’t seem right to bury Grandpa under an assumed or falsified name. Always search these records before you search the passenger lists—you need the correct information to match passenger list entries.
Genealogies, Family Histories, and Pedigree Charts. Your genealogy may already be compiled. In 2000, the millennial year, I did an informal survey of surnames I was researching for clients. Do you know that 80% of those names had one or more family accounts already on file or in print. Break your losing streak! Always search Heritage Books where local people describe what they know about their relatives. You can get up to 300 years of family information in just one good history or genealogy. When documented with copies of original records, you can save much time and effort.
Other Sources: Military records, churchbooks, newspapers and obituaries, historical websites and periodicals provide best results when you know something about your family members. Search these sources to fill gaps in dates, places, and relationships and identify migration patterns..