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  • Writer's pictureFamily History Fanatics

Genealogy Basics: The Genealogy Records You Should Search First

woman doing genealogy research on laptop

If you're new to genealogy, you might be feeling overwhelmed. No need. Start with these entry-level genealogy records, and you'll be climbing your tree in no time.

I've worked with numerous beginning genealogists, plus I was one 30 years ago. The following record types are the easiest to access and provide many quick wins while building your family tree. While it's tempting to explore all the hints genealogy websites offer, stay focused on these record collections first.

Before we begin, make sure you grab my free guide for getting started successfully with family history.

Home Sources for Family History

You're ready to tackle some evidence to build your family tree. You might be wondering, which records should I start with first?

Start with what you have at home.

I can't tell you the number of times I have worked with newbie genealogists, and they failed to access what they have nearby. Answers to many family tree mysteries are hiding in your home!

You're probably asking yourself, "You want me to go into that disorganized mess stuff I have at home looking for family history?"

Yes! I want you to go to your attics, closets, garages, sheds, barns, storage units, or wherever you have boxes of stuff.

Gather the following genealogically essential items:

  • Birth, marriage, and death records

  • Adoption papers

  • Photographs

  • Scrapbooks

  • Journals

  • Programs from life events or associations and performances

  • Association and Organization material

  • Family Bibles

  • Legal documents

  • Yearbooks

  • Educational records

  • Letters/correspondence

  • Jewelry

  • Keepsakes

  • Heritage clothing, shoes, textiles, wall wart

Home resources are valuable because they contain clues to who you are, who your relatives are, where they lived, and where they came from.

Inside these photos, documents, and possessions, you have access to your genealogy research questions that can't be found anywhere else or are behind privacy restrictions.

Adoptees might have little to start with, but genealogy skills can be built initially on your adopted family lines. For more tips on researching a biological family tree, check out this video series.

To view these records and see how to access them, watch this video.

Video: Search These Genealogy Records First

Census Records

For researchers in the United States, Canada, and the UK, Census records are a gold mine of genealogy information. Some other countries have census records as well, so always seek out these government documents first.

While the United States began counting citizens every ten years in the 1790s, the best census records begin in the 1850s. In that year, the government started identifying every free individual in a household. In the 1850s and 1860s, some slaves were identified by names in a separate Slave Register.

In the 1880s, the census records began recording the relationship of individuals in a household. Before that time, you have to make educated guesses.

Are you interested in learning more about searching the census records? Check out these resources:

When you find a census record for your family members, be sure to read the entire document. All of the details help you know about your ancestor.

↪️ Are you new to genealogy? Grab your copy of this FREE Beginner Guide:

laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps for Successfully Starting in Family History

City Directories

Regular Fanatics know that I love city directories. City directories are a little bit better than census records because you can track certain relatives year by year. Census records came out every 10 years. In many places, city directories were published every year.

MyHeritage has my favorite collection of city directories. Following the steps in this video, you can access a register that looks a lot like a phonebook. However, you may find home addresses, business addresses, occupations, and marital status.

With MyHeritage, they will search through millions of names across many years of directories in one location and combine individuals with the same information in one record hint. Read this blog post to learn more.

Gravestone Websites

Most of your ancestors are deceased. As such, gravestones are a great genealogy resource. My favorite website for viewing cemeteries around the world is Find A Grave.

When you navigate to a memorial page, you may find:

  • the gravestone

  • a transcription

  • birth, death, and burial dates

  • links to relatives

  • additional biographical information

The profiles have user-submitted information that can be very valuable to your research.

Be careful. The accuracy and completeness of each profile depend on the volunteers who supplied the information. Don't assume that a profile links to all of the person's siblings or children. To learn how to evaluate a Find A Grave profile, read this blog post.

↪️ Do you want to dive even deeper into genetic genealogy, writing family histories, and climbing your family tree? Join the

FHF Xtra Premium Membership and get a wealth of exclusive content.

Andy and Devon Lee invite you to join the FHF Xtra Genealogy Premium Membership

Vital Records

While you might be familiar with birth, marriage, and death records because you have these for yourself, I save such documents for your fifth entry-level record collection.

Key life event records, known as vital records in genealogy, record relationships, dates, and places events happened. According to Findmypast, they are "primary sources, sources that were created at the time of the event, so the information on them is pretty reliable."

The problem with vital records stems from two factors. First, many locations restrict access to birth, marriage, and death records due to privacy laws.

Next, not every location's government kept vital records. In genealogy, we say it's all about time and location. Some places in the Southern United States didn't keep birth records until the 1910s.

However, for locations with civil registrations of vital events, you can dive into these records to find out family tree building information.

A Warning About Spelling in All Genealogy Records

No matter what record you consult, your ancestor's name may appear in variously spelled combinations. Spelling is a modern convenience.

I have an ancestral family with the last name Pusecker. I have found it spelled Peusecker, Puesecker, Puseger, Passeger, and Buseger. Don't make the mistake of insisting that your family name was always spelled one way.

Also, don't fall into the trap that you believe your ancestor's name was changed at Ellis Island. We have videos that attempt to dispel that myth. This first one is humorous, while the second is more matter of fact.

Dive Into These Entry-level Genealogy Records.

Get started in family history now. Recognize some countries have different beginning genealogy records. If you are researching in a non-US-specific place and have other suggestions, let me know where you would start.

Continue Your Beginning Genealogy Journey

If you would like to continue your beginning genealogy education journey, check out these articles and videos:

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