5 Branches of US Military Records for Genealogy

Finding US military records for genealogy depends on which of the five branches your relative served in:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Marines
  • or Coast Guard.

Here, military expert Michael Strauss introduces each one and tells us where to look for their records, both online and offline.

Over the last 30+ years doing genealogy research, I’ve discovered that nearly all of my family members who served in the military were in the United States Army. But I have been occasionally surprised to find relatives who served in other branches of the military, like my grandfather’s first cousin, Russell G. Strauss, shown below.

His uniform indicated that he was a third class petty officer in the Navy during the war. I looked further at his uniform and noticed a diamond shaped “S” as part of the insignia. This military occupation indicated that he was a specialist that would require further research. I spoke with a couple of my older family members who knew Russell. All of my family interviewed said that he in the military police (M.P.) during the war. With additional research, I discovered that his insignia was that of the Shore Patrol. On Ancestry.com, I found his application for compensation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when he served in the Shore Patrol in Norfolk, Virginia as part of his military duty:

Finding US military records for genealogy

If you’d like to learn gems like these about your relatives, you need to know that US military records for genealogy research are organized separately for the five branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the Coast Guard. Some branches have more online research resources than others. In a future article, I’ll talk about identifying military service details based on pictures like I did above. This article introduces the five branches and where to start learning about them.

US Army and its records

The largest of the five military branches dates back to June 14, 1775, during the early days of the Revolutionary War. Prior to the formation of the Army, each colony had companies and battalions of Associators and local militia. With the war, the need for a professional standing army to fight the British saw the formation of the Continental Army.

With the end of the Revolutionary War, the Army disbanded in 1783 after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Later in 1796, the two legions formed under the command of General Anthony Wayne would later become the nucleus of the United States Army. The Encyclopedia Britannica published this nice article on the history of the Army from its inception to the present.

A number of excellent genealogical resources are available to search for ancestors who served in the United States Army since the beginning. These databases are found on Ancestry, Fold3, and FamilySearch. One of the largest collections of records covers the United States Regular Army enlistments from 1798 to 1914 (available by subscription at Ancestry.com). Searching the card catalogs of Ancestry.com, Fold3 and FamilySearch will yield many databases that contain information about soldiers who served and sacrificed their lives with the Army over the last two centuries.

US Navy and its records

For those who had ancestors who trod the quarterdeck of a frigate, the United States Navy has a fine tradition of service. On October 13, 1775, it was officially established by an Act passed by the Continental Congress. At the end of the Revolutionary War, it was disbanded but again was reestablished under the Naval Act of 1794, which created the Navy as a permanent branch of the military.

The earlier period of naval history is called the “Old Navy.” It was the age of wooden sailing ships. Still later came the birth of the ironclads (during the Civil War). The later period, called the “New Navy,” occurred with further innovations in the late nineteenth century, as the United States transformed into a global power.

The United States Navy website has a nice background history of the service. Numerous databases and searches for records of the Navy covering multiple war period detailing pensions, continental sailors, muster rolls, ships logs, and cruise books are located on Ancestry.com, Fold3, and FamilySearch.  Consult each database individually for records of interest.

Another organization related to the Navy is the United States Merchant Marines. Although not officially a branch of the military, the Merchant Marines sacrificed and lost lives since the days of the Revolutionary War, carrying out their missions of supply and logistics during times of war. Here’s an excellent website on the history of the Merchant Marines.

US Air Force and its records

Officially the youngest of the military branches, the Air Force was formed as part of the Security Act of 1947. But the Air Force and military aviation history began under the authority of the United States Army starting on August 1, 1907, when it was organized under the name of the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps. Over the next 30 years the service changed names several times:

  • Aviation Section of the Signal Corps (1914-1918);
  • Division of Military Aeronautics (1918);
  • Air Service of the United States Army (1918-1926);
  • United States Army Air Corps (1926-1941);
  • United States Army Air Forces (1941-1947).

In that final year, it was separated as its own organization as it is known today. Click here for a complete history of the Air Force from 1907 to the present.

Two excellent online sources covering the early history of the Air Force from World War I and World War II are located on Fold3:

US Marines and its records

This elite branch of the military began with the organization of the Continental Marines on November 19, 1775. The mission of the Marines initially comprised ship-to-ship fighting, security on-board naval vessels, and assistance in landing force operations. This mission would continue to evolve over the years.

At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Marines were disbanded (like the Navy). But along with the Navy, under the Naval Act of 1794 the United States Marines were again re-established and would serve faithfully in every major war period and in peacetime between conflicts. The Marines will forever remain true to their motto of “Semper Fidelis” or “Always Faithful” as they continue to live up to their long-running tradition of honor and service. Here’s an interesting (and accurate) history of the Marine Corps.

Ancestry.com has an excellent online genealogical resource for discovering Marine Corps ancestors: fully searchable Marine Corps muster rolls from 1798 to 1958 for enlistees.

US Coast Guard and its records

Although first envisioned as a force of revenue tax collectors, the Coast Guard’s ability to conduct diverse missions during peacetime and war became the hallmark of this service. Its history dates back to August 4, 1790. Established as the Revenue Cutter Marines under the direction of Alexander Hamilton, the name was changed in 1894 to the Revenue Cutter Service. In 1915, Congress passed and signed the “Act to Create Coast Guard.” In so doing, the United States Live Saving Service and Revenue Cutter Service came together. Later, in 1939, the United States Light House Service was added to form the modern-day United States Coast Guard.

The complete history of the United States Coast Guard from 1790 is online at its Historians Office. It includes information about each of the separate organizations that came together to form the Coast Guard.

Genealogy giant Ancestry.com has a collection of casualties of the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Very few additional online sources are available online for this branch of the service. Researchers must access these documents and records onsite at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

More on US military records for genealogy

As the Military Minutes contributor to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, Michael Strauss is systematically guiding us through the world of US military records for genealogy. Click above to listen–or below to read up on what he’s already taught here at Genealogy Gems:

Intro to US military terminology: regular, volunteer, or militiaman?

Compiled Military Service Records: US Military Records before the 1900s

Official Military Personnel Files for WWI, WWII and beyond

US draft registration records: Civil War to WWII and beyond

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Totally Free New US Genealogy Records Online

Among the totally free new US genealogy records recently put online are collections from 8 states: CA vital records and photos, GA Reconstruction oaths, IL photos, MA naturalizations, NY passenger lists, and digital newspapers from NJ, NC, NY and OH. Also: the Japanese-American experience, African American life on the West Coast and the Cumberland Gap in the Civil War.

Totally free new US genealogy records online

Check out these three important regional digital archives, followed by state-level collections of new US genealogy records from the East Coast to the West—and the South to the North.

The Japanese-American experience

The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkley, has published the massive Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Digital Archive. According to a university announcement, this new online resource “includes approximately 150,000 original items including the personal papers of internees, correspondence, extensive photograph collections, maps, artworks and audiovisual materials.” This project, together with a companion study, “form one of the premier sources of digital documentation on Japanese American Confinement found anywhere.”

You can now search over 50 newspaper titles (1887-1944) from the Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection. It’s “the world’s largest online archive of open-access, full‑image Japanese American and other overseas Japanese newspapers,” according to digital newspaper website developer Elephind. “All image content in this collection has enhancements added where possible, thus rendering the text maximally searchable. The holdings of each title are also browsable by date, with each title cross searchable with other titles on the platform. This collection is planned to contain some sixty newspapers published in Hawaii and North America. Most publications present a mix of content in Japanese and English, with formats and the proportionality of Japanese/English often changing as a reflection of shifting business and social circumstances.”

African Americans on the West Coast

The Official California Negro Directory and Classified Buyers Guide for 1942-43 is now available for free on Internet Archive. According to this news article, it “contains residential and business listings for California, Oregon and Washington. The 1942 directory includes ads for both black-owned businesses and white-owned businesses that accepted black trade, similar to The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide issued for more than 30 years to help African-Americans find hotels and restaurants that would accommodate them during a time of rigid segregation.”

The Civil War in the Cumberland Gap

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, TN houses the valuable Cumberland Gap Byrnes Collection. According to the site, “The Cumberland Gap was a strategic location during the American Civil War and changed hands several times throughout the course of the conflict. The collection includes correspondence, cartes-de-visite, and artifacts from soldiers belonging to the 16th, 42nd, and 185th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, units that were stationed for a time in and around the Cumberland Gap area.” The collection is being digitized and uploaded to a free digital archive on an ongoing basis.

Free new US genealogy records online: State collections

California. The free genealogy giant FamilySearch.org has added over 667,000 indexed names to its existing collection of California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994. According to the collection description, “Registers, records and certificates of county birth and death records acquired from county courthouses. This collection contains some delayed birth records, as well. Some city and towns records are also included. Records have not been acquired for Contra Costa, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Modoc, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Siskiyou, Solano, Tulare and Ventura counties. The name index for death records covers Stockton, Lodi and Manteca cities and San Benito and San Joaquin counties.”

The new Sonoma County Fires Community Memory Map is a new crowd-sourced digital archive that has come after a fast-moving wildfire burned over 100,000 acres of land across the county. According to the site, it “serves to provide a central place where people can share photographs and stories of the places that we lost overnight. Through the power of community, we aim to reconstruct a digital collective memory. Residents and visitors of beautiful Sonoma County can share their recollections of the places we no longer have.” Here’s a moving article about the story behind the site’s creation.

Georgia. A new post-Civil War record index has been published at FamilySearch.org. So far, Georgia, Reconstruction Registration Oath Books, 1867-1868 includes nearly 175,000 names. “Registration Oath Books [were] created by U.S. military officials stationed in Georgia following the Civil War,” explains the collection description. “Registers typically contain each voter’s name, county of residence, date of registration, race, and an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath of allegiance was required in order to register. Registered voters would then elect delegates to the state’s constitutional convention.” Don’t forget to use your free guest login at FamilySearch.org for the maximum level of online access to records. Click here to learn more about this.

Illinois. About 1,700 digital images depicting the history of Rockford (Winnebago County), Illinois have been published in the Midway Village Museum’s Online Collections. According to the site, the images include: “postcards and photographs of central Rockford, Camp Grant, and local landmarks and businesses; photographs of community activities in the late 1800s and early 1900s; letters home from Rockford boys fighting in the Civil War; [and] transcripts from interviews done in 2007 with immigrants to Rockford and their children.”

Massachusetts. FamilySearch.org has published a new collection of early 20th-century naturalization records. Massachusetts, Naturalization Records, 1906-1917. Over 71,000 digitized record images are browseable on the site. Nearly 100,000 names have been indexed to date (more names will be added as they are indexed). These records are from petitions and records of naturalizations of the U.S. District and Circuit of Massachusetts.

New Jersey. Digital historical newspapers from New Jersey are finally being added to Library of Congress website, Chronicling America. Only one paper, the Perth Amboy Evening News, has been published on the site so far, but more are coming. “Upon the project’s completion, 100,000 pages of New Jersey newspapers will be available through the site,” states this news article.

New York. Over 1.6 million names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, New York Book Indexes to Passenger Lists, 1906-1942. This collection will continue to grow as more names from its 748,000 digital page images are indexed. You may browse unindexed pages: the indexes are grouped by shipping line and arranged chronologically by date of arrival.

Also, the Hudson River Valley Heritage Historical Newspapers project has now published issues from 34 newspaper titles dating from 1831 to 2013. Counties covered include Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester. According to the site, “This collection contains 28,946 issues comprising 300,793 pages and 1,017,782 articles.”

North Carolina. The Digital North Carolina Heritage Center has added more newspapers to its free website:

  • The entire run of the Brevard News, a Transylvania County, NC newspaper. According to the site, “Previously, issues of the Brevard News only covered from 1917 to 1923, but DigitalNC now includes January 1924 through December 1932….It joins fellow Transylvania county newspapers the Sylvan Valley News, The Echo, and The Transylvania Times.”
  • 16 Wilmington newspapers spanning 1803-1901, including the Wilmington Daily Record. According to a blog announcement, “Some of the papers have several years of content available and several have just an issue or two. But together, they paint a rich picture of what life in Wilmington looked like during the 1800s and the wide variety of political viewpoints that were held in the city, and North Carolina as a whole. The papers shed light on a port town that was instrumental in the Civil War and in the politics of Reconstruction afterwards, which culminated in the infamous riots of 1898.”
  • More issues of a Warsaw, NC newspaper, The Duplin Times. The years 1962-1985 have been added to a collection for this title dating back to 1935. The paper covers primarily local politics and community issues and events.

Ohio. The public library system in Gallipolis (Gallia County), Ohio has put its entire local historical newspaper collection online. The collection spans 123 years of news (since 1895) and includes Daily Times, Sunday Times-Sentinel, The Gallipolis Daily Tribune and others. The digital publication of issues of some newspapers through 2017 is unusual and required the publisher’s permission. Access these at the Digital Archives of the Bossard Memorial Library.

Not free but still fabulous: 110 million more newspaper pages

Newspapers.com recently sent out a “Year in review” statement that is worth passing along. They report that in 2017, the site added nearly 1,400 new newspaper titles. “With an average of 9,203,918 pages added per month, Newspapers.com added 110,447,021 pages’ worth of new content last year!”

Additions in 2017 span 41 U.S. states, Washington D.C., the UK, and Canada. They added the most newspaper titles for Alabama (265), Kansas (187), Arkansas (151), Mississippi (126) and Utah (91). Breaking it down by the number of pages added, though, you can see they added substantial content for other states, too—with Utah making both lists:

  • Florida: 11,579,543 new pages
  • Indiana: 3,830,015 new pages
  • New York: 2,047,831 new pages
  • Pennsylvania: 4,827,196 new pages
  • Utah: 1,174,417 new pages

Newspapers.com now claims over 338 million total pages of newspaper content. If it’s been a while since you’ve last looked around the site, it may be time to visit again and explore your ancestors’ lives in print.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Military Terminology for Genealogists: Regulars, Volunteers and Militia

Military terminology for genealogists: What’s the difference between “regulars,” “volunteers” and “militia” in your U.S. ancestors’ military service records? It matters! Researching the records of each–and what you find–may be very different. Expert Michael Strauss explains here.

Military terminology for genealogists (and why it matters)

If you’ve looked through your U.S. ancestors’ military records, you’ve likely come across terms like Regulars, Volunteers, and Militia. What do those terms mean? You’ll want to know because the records were different and so were their terms of service. Also, you may come across relatives who served in more than one capacity.

Regulars were those men who enlisted for a specific period of time as part of the standing army. These men could have enlisted during a war period or peacetime. During the colonial period, they may have been recorded with other names, as either the Continental Line or part of the Flying Camp. The latter were men who served directly under General George Washington. Look for service records of Regulars at the National Archives. (Click here for a free download: Military Service Records at the National Archives by Trevor K. Plante.)

Volunteers were men who served during wartime or any period of emergency whose service was considered to be in the interest of the Federal Government. Recorded from the Revolutionary War onward, these men at that time might also be listed early on as “Associators.” Not to be confused with militia, Volunteers were not subject to fines for non-service. Like the Regulars, records of volunteers’ service are also found at the National Archives.

(A good example of the difference between Regulars and Volunteers can be found during the Spanish American War of 1898. During the war, there was a Regular Army 1st U.S. Cavalry that served alongside the Volunteer 1st U.S. Cavalry. The latter was known as the “Rough Riders,” led by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.)

The militia was organized initially by colonial, then state and even county governments. (Pennsylvania’s colonial militia is a great example of typical colonial militia laws, rules, and regulations, and parent organizations; click here to read an article about the Pennsylvania militia.) Militia was generally men called up for limited military duty between the ages of 17-60 as needed for the common defense. They were often required to serve for a period of time that was based on the militia laws on the books. The men were subject to fines or penalties for non-service. Records of militia are going to be found at your local or state archives. (Click here for a directory of state archives in the U.S.)

Example: He was a Volunteer and a Regular

My ancestor, Samuel Howard, served during the Civil War. Because of his age he wasn’t able to enlist until 1865, when he turned 18.

  • He was first a Volunteer soldier, who served as a substitute for another man who was drafted.
  • After his discharge, he enlisted in the Regular Army in 1866. He was assigned to the 13th U.S. Infantry, where he served one month before deserting at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.
  • Samuel was married in 1867 (this may have some relevance to his decision to leave the military). He lived in Pennsylvania from the end of the war until his death in 1913. He is shown here in this 1876 tintype photograph in Lebanon, PA.

Both his Volunteer and Regular Army enlistment forms are shown below. The forms look very similar, as each contains common information asked of a typical recruit. However, they are decidedly different as the one covers his Civil War service and the other his post-war service when he joined the regular Army after the men who served during the war would have been discharged.

military terminology for genealogists

Take-home point for you: I believe the key to finding your ancestors, whether they served in the Regulars, were Volunteers or Militiaman, is to look at not only federal records but also search your state records. The latter may be the only place you find proof of military service. Samuel Howard’s Regular Army military service, although brief, was completely unknown to me until a couple of years ago. When he applied for his Civil War pension, which was granted to him, he never mentioned his Regular army service.

And keep learning more helpful military terminology for genealogists! Click here for resources on military acronyms, abbreviations, and dictionaries from the National Archives that can help that you research exactly how your ancestors served.

More military terminology for genealogists

Researching your relatives’ military service can be fascinating, but also frustrating if you aren’t familiar with military terminology, history, and records. In the Military Minutes segment of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, expert Michael Strauss shares gems like these that can help you explore this important part of your ancestors’ lives. Start listening to the Genealogy Gems Podcast (Michael began contributing in Episode 207) or take a quick peek at more Military Minutes segments: Michael’s explanations of Compiled Military Service Records and Official Military Personnel Files,

Michael Strauss, AG

Michael Strauss, AG

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

Mayflower Ancestors and More in New Genealogy Records Online

Discover your Mayflower ancestors–or more about your family history from around the world–in new and updated genealogy records online. Among them are the Welsh National Book of Remembrance for WWI and various records for Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and Venezuela. Also: all Missouri adoptees may now order original birth certificates.

United States: Discover Your Mayflower Ancestors

In anticipation of the 2020 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (aka AmericanAncestors.org) has launched a new website, Mayflower 2020. This interactive website features the world’s first online gathering of Mayflower descendants, along with in-depth information about Mayflower passengers and their family trees, resources for finding Mayflower ancestors, and information on “Mayflower 2020” announcements and events.

The National Library of Wales has published online the Welsh National Book of Remembrance for the First World War. According to the NLW website, the book “contains the names of 35,000 servicemen and women, as well as members of Welsh Regiments, who lost their lives in the First World War. These individuals are listed according to regiment and battalion alongside the names of those who might well have died alongside them.” The original gilded volume contains about 1,100 pages of names, with about 40 names scripted in calligraphy on each page. The commemorative book was created as a “roll of honor” and companion to the Welsh National War Memorial in Cathays Park, Cardiff, which doesn’t include names of the deceased on it. Search or browse the gorgeous volume at the National Library of Wales digital archive.

U.S. state-level genealogy collections

Indiana. Over a million records appear in MyHeritage’s new collection, Indiana Newspapers, 1847-2009. According to MyHeritage, “This collection is a compendium of newspapers published in various cities and towns in the state of Indiana from the 1840s until 2009. Newspapers are an important resource for genealogy and family history research as they contain obituaries and other vital record substitutes such as birth, marriage, and death notices. Additionally, society pages and stories of local interest contain rich information on activities and events in the community and often provide details about the persons involved.”

Massachusetts. New at AmericanAncestors.org is Suffolk County, MA: Probate File Papers, with nearly 22,000 Suffolk County probate cases (1630-1800). According to the site, “The probate cases include wills, guardianships, administrations, and various other types of probate records. The complete Suffolk County File Papers collection will eventually cover cases 1-94,757, which includes all years through 1892. The cases are indexed chronologically, which allows us to present them in sections while digital photography occurs. Photography is expected to continue through 2020. We will add cases as they become available.”

Missouri. A new Missouri law, the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act, now gives all adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees born prior to 1941 were already eligible to request copies of their original birth certificates as of mid-2016. On January 1, 2018, this right was extended to adoptees born in or after 1941. According to a local news report, the state representative behind the new law, Don Phillips, is himself an adoptee and was among the first to receive a copy of his own certificate when the new rules went into effect recently. If you would like to order a non-certified copy of an original birth certificate from the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records, click here to fill out the online application.

Montana. Ancestry.com has published Montana Birth Records, 1897-1919. The collection includes birth certificates that typically include the following information: name, gender and race of child; date and place of birth; and parents’ names, ages and birthplaces.

Free on FamilySearch: More global genealogical records

FamilySearch is always free, so take a quick peek at the newly-indexed names added to the following collections. Maybe your ancestors’ names have finally appeared!

Ireland. Look up your Irish ancestors in Ireland Civil Registration, 1845-1913. More than 653,000 names have been added.

New Zealand. Nearly a million indexed names have been added to New Zealand, Civil Records Indexes, 1800-1966. Search this index to official government records of births, marriages and deaths. Tip: see the collection description for important information about ordering copies of original records.

Sweden. Over 36 million indexed names have been added to a mammoth collection of digitized record images in Sweden, Household Examination Books, 1880 – 1920.  Other Sweden collections have been updated at FamilySearch, as well: Sweden, Göteborg och Bohus Church Records, 1577-1932; index 1659-1860, Sweden, Kopparberg Church Records, 1604-1900; index 1628-1860 and Sweden, Västernorrland Church Records, 1501-1940; index 1650-1860.

Venezuela. Nearly 800,000 indexed names have been added to Venezuela, Archdiocese of Mérida, Catholic Church Records, 1654-2015. These parish or diocesan records include “baptisms, confirmations, parish censuses, marriages, pre-marriage investigations, marriage dispensations, deaths, and indexes.”

Get the most out of FamilySearch.org

Of all the “Genealogy Giants” we cover in-depth here at Genealogy Gems, FamilySearch is the only one that’s totally free. It’s also an enormous site with multiple places to search for your ancestors’ names in old records and even additional resources for finding offsite or even offline records you want. So it’s worth a little investment to learn how to use FamilySearch effectively. For that, we recommend Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org by Dana McCullough. In it, you’ll find step-by-step strategies for searching their millions of historical records and family trees, and how to maximize all the site’s valuable resources.

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast. She’s especially known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her latest favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Sunny is also a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine and the NGS-award-winning Co-Editor of Ohio Genealogy News.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

New and Updated Genealogy Records – United States

Though the United States is a relatively young country, its history is a rich source of genealogical information! This week we’re featuring new collections available for United States family history, from the big and exciting to the small and fascinating. Vital records will provide specific names and dates, while newspaper and quilt archives will give a glimpse of your ancestors’ lives in the U.S. 

United States: Yearbooks, Freedman’s Bureau, & War of 1812 Pensions

Yearbooks. A brand new genealogy record collection is available at MyHeritage for U.S. Yearbooks 1890-1979. There are over 36 million pages from over a quarter of a million yearbooks from around the country. From the collection description: “Yearbooks are excellent genealogical records that include personal portraits and group photographs. These books can give a researcher insight into students, faculty, and staff who attended or worked at a school. The yearbooks in this huge compendium are primarily from high schools, which in the United States normally comprise grades 9 to 12 or 10 to 12.”

Freedman’s Bureau. FamilySearch has two new Freedman’s Bureau databases available online. The first is the collection of Records of Freedmen’s Complaints, 1865-1872. The complaints consisted of problems which freedmen brought to the Bureau’s attention. Many registers give the names of freedmen and the nature of the complaint, but others give only a synopsis of the case without names. The second new collection is the Freedmen’s Bureau Ration Records,1865-1872. These records include letters and endorsements sent and received, account books, applications for rations, applications for relief, court records, and more.

War of 1812. In a massive effort by the entire genealogical community, the War of 1812 Pension Application Files are now available for the first time online, hosted online for free at Fold3.com. The project is about 2/3 complete with nearly 2 million documents online today. The files generally contain documentation submitted in support of a claim, such as the original application form, affidavits, and statements from witnesses.

State-Specific Collections

California. All of the nearly 19,000 issues of The Stanford Daily (1892-2004) are available in a new online database. The collection is entirely searchable and provides a firsthand account of life at Stanford University from 1892 to today.

Another interesting new collection of California State Archives photos is also now available online. The archives digitized nearly 3,000 photos of early 20th century California taken by William and Grace McCarthy, who traveled throughout the state when automobiles were a new form of transportation, including images of long-gone North County landmarks.

Colorado. Ancestry recently added a new collection of Steelworks Employment Records, 1887-1979. Records may contain names, birth dates, spouses, parents, and more.

Georgia. 16,000 pages of the Walker County Messenger dating from 1880-1924 have been added to the Georgia Historic Newspapers (GHN) website. Also newly added to the GHN database are historic Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah publications, including the Bulletin (1920-1962) and the Savannah Bulletin (1958).

New Hampshire. Over at FamilySearch, a new collection of Vital and Town Records Index, 1656-1938 is now available. It includes birth, marriage, and death records.

New York. Reclaim the Records just announced that they’ve obtained and published the first-ever public copies of the death index for Buffalo, New York, for the years 1852-1944. Over 640,000 names are included, though be aware that the scanned copies may have some edges cut off.

Another unique collection now available is the New York Quilt Project, an archive of over 6,000 quilts and their histories. From the collection description: “Details were recorded like family background, religion, where a quiltmaker learned the craft, why they made the quilt, and where they obtained textiles, and a small tab was sewn into the back of each quilt for identification. These stories often chronicle immigration to New York, as some quilts were brought over from Germany or Italy, and visually show through their patterns and designs the influence of different populations from around the world in the state.”

North Carolina. A collection of 60 hand-drawn Civil War sketches have been added to Digital North Carolina, drawn by soldier Edwin Graves Champney. The original artwork includes scenes showing landmarks, landscapes, and Union military activity. From Wake Forest University also comes a collection of 19 newspaper titles dating from 1857 to 1925. They were written for Christian (primarily Baptist) communities across North Carolina. Finally, almost two decades of the newspaper The Carolina Indian Voice, from 1977-1996, have been added to the collection at DigitalNC.

South Dakota. From a recent press release: “Several Sioux Falls German titles have recently been added to Chronicling America: The Sud (Soot) Dakota Nachrichten (Knock-rick-ten), 1896-1900; the Sud-Dakota Nachrichten und Herold, 1900-1901; the Nachrichten-Herold, 1901-1907; and the Deutscher (Doit-shur) Herold, 1907-1913. To view these newspapers please visit the Chronicling America Website.”

Virginia. The Virginia Newspaper Project recently announced that they have digitized copies of Richmond Whig and Commercial Journal, a daily published by John Hampden Pleasants and Josiah Abbot from 1831-1832. Both are now available on Virginia Chronicle.

Dig deep into your American roots

If you want to dive into your American genealogy, you’ll definitely need the brand new 4th edition of The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. This new 4th edition has been completely updated, incorporating all the latest developments, principles, and resources relevant to family history research. There are now two chapters about technology as it relates to family history research–one dealing with significant concepts and definitions and the other with specific resources and applications, including major family history websites and Internet resources. Click here to get it right now for $49.95 with FREE shipping! *Shipping to U.S. only, up to two weeks for delivery.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

New Collection for Tracing Immigrants From the British Isles

Exciting news this week is the brand new British and Irish Roots Collection from Findmypast. This collection has 98 million records and is free to search for a limited time. Also new are electoral rolls for Australia and vital records for the United States. 

Findmypast: New Collection for Tracing Immigrants From the British Isles

Findmypast has just announced the brand new British and Irish Roots Collection. This exciting new database consists of more than 98 million assorted records that have been hand-picked from existing collections by Findmypast’s in-house experts. It spans more than 400 years of migration between the British Isles and North America, all in one place. And for a limited time, this database is FREE to search for everyone!

A little more about the collection: “Millions of passenger lists, census records, naturalization applications and draft registrations, as well as birth, marriage, and death records spanning more than 400 years (1573 to 1990) of migration between the British Isles and North America can now be explored in one unified search, enabling North American family historians to trace the migration of ancestors from the Old World to the New through one simple search.”

The journeys researchers can expect to find include:

  • Anyone leaving the UK or Ireland and emigrating to the US, Canada or the Caribbean
  • Anyone emigrating from Canada or the Caribbean to the US (this covers the large number of British and Irish immigrants who stopped temporarily in Canada and/or the Caribbean)
  • Anyone listed on any US or Canadian record with British or Irish origins, birthplace or parents

This is a very exciting new collection, and one well-worth exploring now while it’s available for free. Click here to start searching now (a free Findmypast account may be required to view).

Australia – Electoral Rolls

MyHeritage has added new collections for Queensland, Australia Electoral Rolls. Years include 1906, 1941, and 1959. Electoral rolls are the nearest record Australians have to census listings and hence are extremely important to local, social and family historians. MyHeritage has also added the Tasmania Electoral Rolls 1916 collection as well.

Also new this week is Ancestry’s collection for the Queensland, Australia, Mining Accident Index, 1882-1945. From the database description: This collection contains information about mining accidents published annually in the Queensland Legislative Assembly Votes and Proceedings (later known as Queensland Parliamentary Papers) from 1882 to 1945.

United States Vital Records & More

Obituary Notices. Findmypast has a new collection of Obituary Notices containing 6 million records (transcribed from the tributes.com website) that could help you unlock unknown details on your ancestor’s death in America.

Colorado. A new collection of Steelworks Employment Records, 1887-1979 is available now at Ancestry. The original records come from the Steelworks Center of the West, and you may find names, birthdates, birthplaces, spouses, occupations, and more.

Idaho. Two new collections of vital records for Idaho are now online at Ancestry. County Birth and Death Records, 1863-1967 will reveal names, dates, places, and includes a small amount of marriage records. County Marriages, 1863-1967 contains a variety of marriage forms, including: Marriage Certificates, Marriage Licenses, Marriage Affidavits, and Marriage Applications.

Montana. Also new at Ancestry are marriage records for Montana. These new databases include County Marriages 1865-1987Marriage Records 1943-1986, and Divorce Records, 1943-1986. To obtain certified certificates (or request changes) you’ll want to contact the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Office of Vital Records.

New Hampshire. Finally, vital records for Portsmouth, New Hampshire are available at Findmypast. Start with the Vital Records 1706-1895 collection, containing birth, marriage, and death records reported in newspapers and town record transcripts. If your ancestors fell on hard times, you’ll want to search the Expenses Of The Poor 1817-1838 collection. The Newspaper Abstracts 1776-1800 collection may help you sketch a more detailed view of significant events in your ancestor’s life. Finally, cver 10,000 new records from Portsmouth, NH have been added to Findmypast’s collection of United States Marriage records.

Try Findmypast FREE for two weeks!

As we mentioned above, the new British and Irish Roots Collection is free to search at Findmypast for a limited time. But there’s so much more to discover! Findmypast is the leading records website for British and Irish records, and has growing databases for the United States, Australia, and Canada. Get a two-week free trial to explore everything that Findmypast has to offer!

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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