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USA genealogy resources

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This article focuses on genealogy resources for the USA. There is already a wealth of information available on the internet and it is not intended to duplicate work that is already done. This page is instead intended as an introduction for the beginner or for a non-US DNA project administrator who is interested in recruiting participants from the US and understanding the complexities of US research. The intention is to provide a list of the key resources and databases which will be of most assistance.

The most important beginning concept to learn are the geographical boundaries within the USA. It is divided into states, which in turn are divided into counties. Doing genealogical research in the USA requires a knowledge of these geographical boundaries. Also, you must realize that these boundaries for states and counties changed at different times, depending on the year(s) for which you are doing research. Check out the County Boundary Maps listed below.

Additionally, though the USA has a Federal Government which governs the country, shares a common currency and mandates certain laws, the state still operates basically independently. For genealogical research, you must usually start at the state level. It is responsible for vital records, which are called civil registration in other countries. Vital records consist of birth, marriage, death, and divorce records. Most states did not begin enforcing the reporting of these events consistently until the early 1900's, and divorces much later. For records from the early 1900's forward, they are usually centrally located at a Vital Records or Statistics office in each state, usually in the state capitol (See USA State Capitols map below on the right). Before that time, records were kept at the county level. Some counties kept better records than others. It is rare to find a birth certificate except in a few odd circumstances before the early 1900's. To determine birth information before the early 1900's it is best to use the US Census Records. Death and marriage records had no set time before that and you would have to check with each state and county to determine what is available. We highly recommend the purchase of "The Handybook for Genealogists" listed in the USA Research Bibliography below. It has a very comprehensive breakdown of records available in each state by county. The dates for these records can vary from county to county, state to state which makes genealogical research in the USA very complicated.

Also, Family Search has set up an excellent genealogical research wiki. The "Family Search Wiki" has resources broken down by state and further by the counties in each state. We recommend you check this out for beginning your research as well.

General Resources


Atlases and Maps

  • County Boundary Maps On this page, click on Rotating Boundary County Maps, and then click on the state you are researching (not all states are included). There are various maps on these pages, but the maps that show the boundary changes over time for each state can be found under Rotating Formation "state" Boundary County Maps. As you click through the years, you can see how the boundary for that county changed and what counties were added over time.
  • The Library of Congress Online Map Collections "The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress holds more than 4.5 million items, of which Map Collections represents only a small fraction, those that have been converted to digital form. These images were created from maps and atlases and, in general, are restricted to items that are not covered by copyright protection. Map Collections is organized according to seven major categories. Because a map will be assigned to only one category, unless it is part of more than one core collection, searching Map Collections at this level will provide the most complete results since the indexes for all categories are searched simultaneously."
  • David Rumsey Historical Map Collection Focused mainly on maps of North and South America in the 18th and 19th Century.

Census Records

Vital Records

  • Where to write for Vital Record provides links to states and territories to obtain Vital Records such as birth, marriage, death and divorce certificates from the early 1900's on. Vital Records previous to this date must be obtained by individual county.

Land Records

Military Records

  • Footnote (subscription required) has original documents from many military records.

Major USA Genealogical Research Libraries

  • Family History Library located in Salt Lake City, Utah, however they have many Family History Centers located throughout the US and Internationally. You will want to acquaint yourself with their Library Catalog which lists what resources they have, which can be ordered by the local Family History Centers.
  • Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center located in Ft. Wayne, Indiana

USA Research Bibliography

The Handybook for Genealogists, 11th edition, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. Baltimore, MD, 2006. (We strongly recommend this book for any serious research within the USA. It is a very comprehensive resource for researching within states and counties which can be very complicated.)

Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources 3rd Edition, Ancestry Publishing, 2004 (definitive reference for genealogy research within the United States. It lists all major genealogical resources in each of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia.)

The Source, 3rd Edition, Ancestry Publishing, 2006 (a handbook and a guide to selecting, locating, and using appropriate primary and secondary sources.)

Genealogical Societies

See also