If you’re new to genealogy, the task of finding your ancestors can seem incredibly daunting – even impossible. These people are from all over the world, few of them have records, and most of them did not hand down journals or paperwork to which you will have access.
Or maybe you’ve been working on your genealogy for months or years – but you’ve hit a wall. You’ve found everything you think you can find and it feels like you’re in a dead end. Where do you turn to find vital information on your ancestors?
There are a few documents which are of particular importance when you’re doing genealogical research for your family. Anything you can find is helpful, and even the most random or confusing sources can end up being a wealth of information. But some documents are more helpful than others. So what should you be looking for? Having a target can help you focus your search and find things that have been elusive or help you communicate with experts even if you’re a novice genealogist.
The Top 5 Documents to Find for Family History
Birth/Death Records: These are the most common, and a great starting point for your genealogical work. You can find these in medical records, obituaries from newspapers, tombstones, and even wills! The essential information you’ll need will be when, where, and how they died or were born. This creates an excellent starting point, enabling you to target that town’s records, papers, and cemeteries for additional information.
Marriage Records: Finding marriage records is sometimes the most exciting because it opens up whole new branches of your family. These records are also helpful because they indicate maiden names of the brides, letting you look into new family members and family names. You may find these in church records, town or newspaper announcements, or family marriage certificates.
Military Records: Thankfully military records are sometimes the best document remnants of our ancestors lives since record-keeping is so vital to the military and is regularly completed. You can find great records of enrollments, discharges, muster lists, draft registrations, even pensions. Some people even find amazing hospital, prison, or cemetery records once they start digging into military records.
Immigration Documents: Most Americans today are descendants of immigrants, at some point or another. There are many records which may indicate how your family arrived in this country, how many there were of them, and other interesting information about the journey. Ship registries, passenger lists, or documentation from immigration stations can provide insight into your ancestry.
Family Heirlooms: Before the days of notebooks, filing cabinets, or computers your ancestors tried to keep records of their families. Bibles were a commonly used to write down details like births, deaths, marriages, and locations. Diaries or journals kept by your ancestors may be helpful, not just for information about the writer, but the entire family and surrounding neighbors! Carefully take another look at any family heirlooms which have been passed down to see if you can glean any more information from those treasures.
Starting with these basic documents you can begin to form a good picture of your ancestors, and provide you with plenty of options to pursue in the future. The resources and helpful documents for family history are almost endless, so keep looking and find a professional genealogist if you need more help!