Begin your search for family history by exploring these resources and research strategies.
Your family tree begins with you. As you climb the family tree, you will move from the present to the past adding each branch.
Keep an open mind and be ready for every possibility. Ancestors were only human. Their stories are as broad and varied as those of the people living today.
Keep track of the sources you use and give credit where it is due. Local and family history research requires you to access and evaluate numerous original and published records in a variety of repositories and collections.
If an online tree or published book includes your lineage, make note of it and give the researcher credit for any help their work provides you, but always do your own research. It's very important to review every record and relationship for yourself.
Interview living relatives, family friends, and others who knew your relatives well.
In genealogy, we start with ourselves, then add names, dates, and facts that can be verified with reliable records. We work backwards in time from relationship to relationship and generation to generation. This way we can build a documented chain of evidence to ancestors. If you have done this well, you will have no question about your claim to your family's history.
Take some time at the beginning of your project to review the documents you already have, what you already know, and how you know it. Be sure to cite your sources clearly and consistently. Decide on your research strategies and how you want to record your progress. Keeping a research log is a good idea to avoid duplication and to save time. You can then quickly reproduce your research if you want to share. You will also be able to defend your research conclusions.
Take some time to define your questions and your goals. How will you know when you have completed your research? What are the important questions to answer? What questions belong to another project?
The Library of Congress Local History and Genealogy Section holds over 100,000 U.S. local histories and more than 50,000 family histories. Records and resources pertinent to local history and genealogy may be found throughout the Library! View the complete list of Library of Congress Reading Rooms.
You can search the Library of Congress Online Catalog for subject headings relevant to your research. Each subject heading will provide a list of related publications or archival items that you can then review for any specific ties to your family or community.
To search the catalog, follow these steps:
In addition, you can search for family names, locations, and related subjects in the Library of Congress Digital Collections. These databases include books, maps, newspapers, photographs, and more. They are free to use online from your home. No login required.
To search the online collections, follow these steps:
Watch this brief video to see how you can use the Library of Congress online collections in your research!
Our generation has the wonderful opportunity to access digital versions of many original records online. This provides an ease of access that past researchers did not have. With this new privilege comes new responsibility.
Consult the Library of Congress Collections tab above for tips to search the Library of Congress Digital Collections free from home.
The following links to online records highlight just a few of the most foundational sources that we can use to begin our research.
Personally visit the cemetery to read tombstones and to see which family members are buried together. If the cemetery has an active office or board, ask them for burial records that may provide additional information and enable you to identify any unmarked graves.
For distant locations that you cannot stop by in person, search online databases such as: Billion Graves External and Find a Grave External. These sites are based on volunteer submissions and are not necessarily complete. As you locate the graves of your relatives, you can add or improve their entries in these free databases.
Find your family in the 1950 U.S. Federal Census and continue backward decade by decade. Free access to Census records is available on sites such as FamilySearch External. Once you create a free account you can login to search: 1950 External, 1940 External, 1930 External, 1920 External, 1910 External, 1900 External, 1890 External, 1880 External, 1860 External, 1850 External, 1840 External, 1830 External, 1820 External, 1810 External, 1800 External, 1790 External.
Newspaper articles are a great source for local and family history. In addition to obituaries and marriage announcements, you may find a variety of headlines and social mentions that provide insights into the daily life of your ancestors and their community.
The Library of Congress provides free access to Chronicling America, a collection of historic newspapers. If the newspapers for your area have not been digitized yet, use the U.S. Newspaper Directory to see which repositories house the archives. You can also access further resources about available publications through the Library's Newspapers and Periodicals Division.
State, county, and community level research is essential in the pursuit of family and local history. Become familiar with the repositories in the areas where your ancestors lived: academic archives, courthouses, genealogical / historical societies, libraries, and more. Keep in mind that most records have not been digitized. It is critical to directly contact the institutions that may hold records important to your investigation.
A quick reference to locate local records is the Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources External. Online guides such as FamilySearch Wiki External are also great tools for tracking down available records in particular places.
View the Library of Congress U.S. State and Territory Guides - Local History and Genealogy Research Guides for charts that explain what you will find in each state's courthouse offices, dates of available vital records, quick links to targeted online collections, reading lists of the pertinent published material, and more.