Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!
The National Archives is a wonderful resource of unique genealogical records. Though the archives are closed, the website is open, and it’s a great place to search for records and prepare for future genealogy research trips.
The National Archives website and online catalog can be a bit mystifying. If you’ve ever tried to search it and wound up frustrated, you’re not alone. This is often the case because the nature of the archives and the search function of the online Catalog are not genealogically focused. Armed with an understanding of how and why it is set up the way it is, and the know-how to search, refine, and download documents, you’ll be ready to add it to your genealogy toolkit.
In this video episode and article, we’ll be answering important questions such as:
What kind of genealogy records can be found at the National Archives website?
Which genealogy records are not available at the National Archives?
How do I search for records at the National Archives online Catalog?
How can I retrieve only digital items from the National Archives Catalog?
How can I get better search results in the National Archives Online Catalog?
How do I download files from the National Archives Website?
What Kind of Records Can be Found at the National Archives Website?
To understand the types of records we can expect to find we must first understand the role and mission of the National Archives. Their role is preserving and making available only the permanent Federal Government records. Some have genealogical value.
These records are arranged as the agencies created them, so there is no master subject or name index.
While they have 110 million + digitized pages in the Catalog, this represents just a small fraction of the holdings.
The Catalog contains descriptions for their nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC area, regional facilities, and Presidential Libraries.
The Catalog currently contains descriptions for 95% of the records, described at the “series” level.
You can find basic information about the records, including size and location, from the catalog description.
The National Archives is regularly adding more file unit and item descriptions, many of which include digital files.
Some traditional genealogy records can be found at the National Archives such as:
Passenger Arrival Records (Immigration)
Military Personnel Records
Fugitive slave cases
Applications for enrollment in Native American tribes
Most if these records are available in person. However, all National Archives locations have been closed since March 13, 2020 and remain so as of this writing.
Genealogy Records You Will Not Find at the National Archives
Because the following genealogy records are not created at the federal level, they would not be cataloged or found at the National Archives:
Deeds and wills.
To obtain these records, check with the appropriate state or county.
What to do before you search the National Archives Catalog online
Before you begin your online search:
Write down your research question.
Decide what topic you want to browse.
Think of possible ways your ancestor interacted with the Federal Government.
On the National Archives website they provide a great example of a research question that a genealogist might have and how it can lead to records.
QUESTION: Why did my ancestor have a significant decrease in net worth between the 1860 Census and 1870 Census?|
ASK YOURSELF: How might your ancestor have interacted with the federal government that could help explain this discrepancy?
RECORDS TO SEARCH FOR: The Bankruptcy Act of 1867 allowed many people to file for voluntary bankruptcy. The genealogists could search in the National Archives Catalog for bankruptcy AND [state where you ancestor lived during that timeframe] to see if bankruptcy records are available that could help answer the question.
How to Search the National Archives Catalog Online
There are three key types of searches you can conduct in the catalog:
Let’s start with a keyword search:
Go to https://catalog.archives.gov
Enter keywords in the search box in the center of the page.
(If you are looking for an exact phrase using two or more words, put them in quotation marks example: “bounty land”)
Press the magnifying glass button to run your search.
The results will be returned starting with best results at the top.
To view a description, click on the blue title.
You can use the filters on the left side of the results page to narrow down your results.
Refine your search results by type if you know the type of material you want. Example of material type include photos, maps, or textual records.
It’s important to remember that just because the item appears in the result does not mean that it is available online. Many of the descriptions don’t include digital images of the records.
How can I retrieve only digital items from the National Archives Catalog?
You can dramatically narrow down your search results to include only digital items that you can review from home. To do this, on the search results page, click on the filter Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects. This will revise your results list so that you will only see descriptions of items with images attached.
How can I get better search results in the National Archives Online Catalog?
It never hurts to try searching by name, although many record descriptions will not name the people who are named in the records. You can improve these searches by using quotes around the entire name, or just the surname. This will restrict results to only items that exactly matches what appears in the quotes.
You’ll notice that there isn’t a specific search field for names in the National Archives Catalog. Here are several additional search strategies you can use when searching for the names of people:
Search on the person’s full name in first name-last name order.
Search for last name – first name within quotes
Search on the surname only. Again you can use quotes.
Search on spelling variations using the search operator OR. This works well when searching name variations such as: Burkett OR Burkette.
Search on variant spellings of the first name, including “Americanized” versions.
Example: Joseph Maggio OR Guiseppe Maggio.
Again, keep in mind that most descriptions in the National Archives Catalog do not include the names of people mentioned in the record. If you know an individual participated in event, search for related keywords and look within the records. You will need to read them to see if your ancestor is mentioned.
Another way to improve your search results is to shift your focus from people to topics. This is strongly recommended by the National Archives. You are much more likely to get a greater number of results because people aren’t usually named in descriptions. Be sure to read the description carefully to see if the item will be helpful and worth requesting.
When searching topics, think about and make a list of relevant phrases and keywords. For example, when searching for Land Records, try searching for phrases such as:
How to Download Files from the National Archives Website
After clicking the description on the search results page you will be on the record page. If there is a digital image, it can be downloaded. Look below to see if there are additional pages. You can click to select the desired page and then click the download icon just below the image.
If you would like to download all of the images, look below the list of images to see if a compiled PDF is available. This will allow you to download and save all of the images in one convenient file.
The Record Group Explorer at the National Archives Website
Allows you to browse NARA’s holdings by Record Group
Use it to get a sense of the scale and organization of records
Explore what is available online via the Catalog
Provides an overview of the digital scans available online within a Record Group: textual records, photographs, maps and charts, electronic records, and more.
Records are grouped by specific government agencies. Each group is represented visually in a section. The section is light blue, signifying the total volume of textual records. If a dark blue bar appears in the section, it is an indicator that some of the records are digitized. The percentage or number (depending on the view you select in the grey Record Group Explorer Tools bar across the top) of digital images will be shown.
If the section is green, that indicates that there are records online but they are not textual records. They may be items like photographs or films.
If the section is grey, there are no records available online at all.
Click a section to learn more about that Record Group and explore the records.
Record Group Highlight: Motion Pictures
The National Archives holds a surprising number of motion pictures. As you browse or search, focusing on topic will likely be more helpful than searching by name. Consider looking for your ancestors’ homes, businesses, military service, events and associated locations.
“A series of films: 306-LSS, a group of more than 400 black and white reels of stock footage that ended up in the hands of the United States Information Agency (USIA).”
Answers to Live Chat Questions
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Sue M.: Do they hold WPA and CCC records? From Lisa: Yes to both!
From Steve S.: Can you use the * and ? as search operators in the NARA catalog? Also thanks for de-mystifying this site! you have made it much more understandable. From Lisa: After the show Steve did some searching and found this handy page providing additional search tips and operators supported by the website. Thanks Steve!
From Michael R.: Are the Naturalization records in the National Archives different from those in local courthouses? From Lisa: I haven’t looked lately, but about 15 years ago I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and received my great grandfather’s federal naturalization paperwork. It included a photograph that was not included at the county court level.
From Lynnette B.: I had my parent’s old home movies put on DVD’s several years ago. What is the next step in making them more available? Adobe spark video? YouTube? I want to identify each person on them? From Lisa: An easy way to get started is by making Adobe Spark Videos (see episode 16) which is free and easy. Use the Titles feature to add text explaining who is who. Uploading them to your free YouTube account channel is a super easy way to share them.
Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.
Land records are some of the most underutilized, yet most useful, records available in genealogy. Often, they are the only records which state a direct relationship between family members. They can also be used to prove relationships indirectly by studying the land laws in force at the time. Sometimes they can even be used to locate an ancestor’s farm or original house, so that we can walk today where our family walked long ago.
Land records exist in the United States in abundance for most locations. Read on to learn how to find land records and how they can help you scale seemingly impossible brick walls in your genealogy research. Our guest blogger is Jaye Drummond, a researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists.
The History of Land Records
The search for new land is one of the main themes of American history, so it makes sense that land records would be an important part of researching that history.
The right to own real estate was not universal in most of the countries from which the majority of American immigrants came. And even when it was possible to own land legally, it was often too expensive and thus out of reach for most people.
As a result, the lure of vast expanses of relatively cheap and plentiful land has proved irresistible to millions of immigrants to American shores over the course of the past 400 years.
The land records created throughout those years to document ownership of all that real estate have accumulated in seemingly limitless amounts. Even in the face of catastrophic record loss in some locations, land records are generally plentiful. They usually exist from the date of formation of colonial, state, and county governments, where the records still exist.
Information Contained in Land Records
Due to the paramount importance of land ownership in what would become the United States, land records often are the only records in which you will find your ancestors mentioned in some areas.
And there’s good news! Land records often state relationships or provide other, indirect, evidence of family relationships. This makes them an invaluable resource for genealogists.
Understanding what kinds of land records exist, where to find them, and how to use them is often critical to solving genealogical mysteries.
4 Types of Land Records and How to Use Them
There are four different types of land records that can play a vital role in your family history research. Let’s take a closer look at what they are and how to use them.
1. Land Deeds
The most essential land record is the deed. Deeds document the transfer or sale of title, or ownership, of a piece of land or other property from one party to another.
Deeds usually concern land, or “real” property, but they also often mention moveable or “chattel” property, such as household goods and even enslaved persons.
Example of deed index, courtesy of FamilySearch
They sometimes, but not always, contain explicit, direct statements of relationship between family members. Sometimes this can be a parent-child relationship, but deeds can also include a list of people who are children or heirs of a particular deceased person who owned the land being sold.
Sometimes the language in deeds involving heirs makes it clear that the heirs are children, sometimes not, so some care must be taken not to assume that all heirs are children. Research in other records sets such as probate, census, and church records may make the relationships of the heirs to the deceased land owner clearer.
In the early years of a settlement, and sometimes later, deeds books also often contained other types of transactions, including the sale of enslaved persons and sometimes even wills. These are often records for which no other copies survive. Thus, surviving deed books should always be checked for ancestors and their family members in every jurisdiction in which you do genealogy research.
Also, remember to check published abstracts of deeds if they exist, as witnesses to deeds were not included in most indexes to the original deed books. Witnessing a deed was one of many ways relatives assisted one another, and thus the presence of one of your ancestors as a witness for someone else suggests they had some kind of relationship, which might lead to the discovery of previously unknown ancestors.
Also keep in mind that not all states required the recording of deeds throughout their history, or did not require them to be recorded in a timely fashion.
Pennsylvania is an example of this lackadaisical attitude to record keeping that now seems foreign. When researching land records in Pennsylvania it is important to remember that deeds for an ancestor might have been recorded years, even decades, after the actual transaction took place. Therefore, always remember to check the indexes for deeds and other transactions many years after the person in question died or left the area.
In other states, such as New Jersey, land was sold at the colony and state level for longer than is typical in other areas and thus land records must be sought at the state or colony level up to that time.
In the case of New Jersey, deeds only began to be recorded in the various counties around 1785. Therefore, New Jersey real property research must be done at both the county and state or colonial level.
In the case of colonies and states with massive record loss, such as Virginia, land records recorded on the state level are often the only records that survive for some counties, and thus are critical for success in navigating such “burned” counties.
2. Land Grants and Patents
Land grants and patents issued by the various colonial, state and federal governments are also an important resource, including land lotteries in states like Georgia.
In many states, such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the original applications, warrants, surveys, and patents or grants still exist and can be searched at the state archives or online.
While these documents do not often state relationships, they sometimes do. That was the case with one of my ancestors whose father had applied for a land patent in Pennsylvania in 1787. He died before the patent was issued in 1800, and thus it was granted to his son by the same name. However, the land patent spelled out that the original applicant had died and his son was the person actually receiving the patent.
Land patents and grants, as well as deeds in general, can also document the dates in which an ancestor resided or at least owned land in a given location. This can assist the researcher in establishing timelines for ancestors. It can also help when it comes to differentiating between two or more individuals residing in a given area with the same name. Anyone dreading research on their Smith and Jones ancestors might just find the solution they seek in those old, musty deed books!
Other land records that might prove essential in solving genealogy puzzles are mortgages.
In some states like New Jersey, mortgages were recorded locally earlier than deeds and sometimes survive for earlier years than do deeds.
A mortgage is a promise by a borrower to repay a loan using real estate as collateral—in effect deeding title to the real estate to the creditor if the loan is not repaid.
A similar instrument called a deed of trust, or trust deed, performs the same function with the exception that a third-party trustee takes title if the loan is not paid back in full. In the early years, mortgages and trust deeds were usually contracted with private individuals, but as the banking industry grew in the United States over the course of the nineteenth century, they began to be taken out with banks instead of private persons.
The two parties involved in a mortgage are the “mortgagor” and the “mortgagee.” Indexes can often be found for mortgages using those terms.
However, sometimes early mortgages and trust deeds were recorded in the same books as deeds, so keep an eye out for them.
And remember: the mortgagor is the borrower, while the mortgagee is the creditor.
Don’t be put off by their sometimes-confusing terminology. Old mortgages and trust deeds are some of the most underused land records in existence—yet they can sometimes be the key that unlocks the door to that next ancestor. Don’t overlook them!
4. Tax Records
One other land record that could crack the case is land tax records. Everyone who owned land had to pay taxes on it, at least in theory. Sometimes, land tax books include notations about one person inheriting land from another, or more commonly, the change in owner’s name from one year to the next can indicate inheritance of the land. The absence of a deed or will showing the transfer might be explained by checking the land tax books.
“14th Dec. 1786 Received of Mr. James Brooks Six pounds, Eighteen Shillings and four pence in full for the balance of Samuel Wood Estate Land Tax for 1784 & Half tax for 85.” John Rodes L. Ds. Image courtesy of MyHeritage.
The Law of the Land: Primogeniture and Genealogy
In some cases, the inheritance and real estate laws of the time might allow you to make a determination of parentage even without a will or deed stating the suspected relationship.
The legal concept of primogeniture, or inheritance of land by the first-born son, was in force in many parts of the Thirteen Colonies until soon after independence, especially in the southern and middle colonies. Thus, when a land owner died, his first-born son would often inherit all or most of his land if he died intestate, or without a will.
The emergence of one man as the owner of a given piece of land in place of the previous owner, either as the seller, or “grantor,” in a deed or in the land tax records, could indicate that the previous owner died and the land was inherited by his “heir-at-law,” the first-born son. There might not be any record of this transfer, so knowing the “law of the land” can prove to be instrumental in cracking the case.
In these and many other ways, land records can be used to find direct and indirect evidence of family and other types of relationships, often when no other record does—or even survives. It is for this reason that land records research must be part of any reasonably exhaustive genealogical investigation.
Where to Find Land Records
In some areas, land records are the only records that survive which state relationships or can be used to provide indirect evidence of them.
They also are useful in establishing biographical timelines for ancestors, and to learn more about their lives. They can sometimes also be used to identify the location of ancestor’s farms and sometimes even their original homes, so that today’s genealogists can often literally walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. But where are those records now?
It used to be that if you wanted to do genealogy the right way, one of your first stops had to be at the county courthouse where your ancestors lived. This is still a good practice, as many treasures held within the walls of the hundreds of courthouses scattered across this land are not microfilmed, digitized, or abstracted, and likely never will be.
The Recorder of Deeds and the County Clerk are therefore often the genealogist’s best friends. So, planning a trip to the courthouse or archive where land records are held is still a good idea.
Smyth County, VA courthouse records (Image credit: Margaret Linford.)
But many of us live far away from where our ancestors owned land and lived out their lives. How can we access these records if we don’t have the time or budget to travel to the areas in question?
Thankfully, the digital revolution has made researching land records and other types of documents much easier, but often still time consuming and at times overwhelming.
The land records held at the state level for “state land” states (the original thirteen colonies and the states formed from them such as Maine and Kentucky) are usually indexed. They can often be accessed digitally at the website for the state archives, commercial genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com, or can be ordered via correspondence with the archive.
In states that were part of the old Northwest Territory, such as Ohio and Indiana, as well as the other public land states (any state formed under the Constitution that was not carved out of one of the original colonies), grants from the federal government to the first recorded owner of that land can be found at the Government Land Office site created by the Bureau of Land Management. Their website (available here) allows searches for names of individuals who purchased federal land in public land states. You can even view the digital images of the land grants, including the signature of the President of the United States at the time.
Example of a land patent image.
Other types of records associated with federal land, include:
applications for public domain land grants,
Homestead Act applications,
Freedman’s Bureau land records,
and bounty land warrants and applications for veterans.
These are all held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Many of these records also state relationships and add rich detail about the lives of ancestors. However, most of these records have never been digitized and must be searched in person or requested via the National Archives’ online order service.
Land records at the county or town level are still held at the local county courthouse or archive, if they survive. Many jurisdictions have digitized their land records and made them available online, in many cases for free. This can sometimes include the entire run of a county’s land records, back to the formation of the county. County clerks and recorders will also sometimes do research via correspondence, though most are unable to do so due to time constraints.
Land Records at FamilySearch
Most importantly in the field of land records research from a genealogical perspective is the massive digitization project undertaken by FamilySearch, the website for the genealogical Society of Utah.
Millions of land records from all across the United States, and even some from other countries, are available at their website free of charge—and viewable either from the comfort of your own home or at a Family History Center or the Family History Library itself, depending on the license agreement FamilySearch has with the original repository.
This vast trove of land records is almost completely unindexed by FamilySearch and will thus not appear in results using their “Records” search page. They must instead be searched in the “Catalog” search page. (Editor’s note: learn how to search unindexed records at FamilySearch by reading our article: Browse-Only Databases at FamilySearch are Easy to Use.)
Despite not being indexed by FamilySearch, the digitized microfilms themselves usually have indexes, either in separate volumes or at the beginnings or ends of the digitized individual deed books.
Most of the digitized land records made available by FamilySearch date from 1900 or before, so a trip to the courthouse might still be warranted for most twentieth-century deeds and more recent land records research. If all else fails, don’t forget to ask the recorder or clerk for help if you have a limited research goal, such as one deed copy—you just might be surprised how eager and willing they are to help.
If the land records you need are unavailable online or are held in a remote location, consider hiring a professional genealogist to go to the courthouse in person on your behalf. Legacy Tree Genealogists has a worldwide network of onsite researchers who can obtain nearly any record that still exists in most areas. Learn more here about how we can assist you in the search for your ancestors and the records of their sometimes only tangible piece of the American dream—land!
(Editor’s note: Our links to Legacy Tree Genealogists are affiliate links and we’ll be compensated – at no cost to you – if you use it when you visit their website. This page includes a discount code for full service projects, or scroll to the bottom of the page for information about their 45-minute genealogy consultations. Thank you for helping to keep our articles and the Genealogy Gems Podcast free. )
Indeed, land ownership was more widespread in the Thirteen Colonies and the United States than most any other nation on earth. So the good news is that there’s a good chance that some of your ancestors were land owners. However you access them, land records are absolutely critical for success in genealogy and should be thoroughly examined whenever possible. You’ll be glad you did.
Jaye Drummond is a researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit their website here.
Once again, this week’s newest genealogical records to come online don’t disappoint. As I compiled this list for you this week, I jumped with joy as I discovered records that confirm the stories of my youth.
Like many families, mine is complicated. After my paternal grandparents divorced in 1956, my grandmother married her ex-husband’s brother in 1958.
Uncle Elzie and Grandmother Pauline Moore
Elzie Moore was not only my great uncle, but my step-grandfather (if there is such a thing.) As a child all I knew was that I was lucky to have what amounted to three grandfathers, although we respectfully called him “Uncle Elzie”.
This photo very much represents how I remember him:
Pauline and Elzie Moore Thanksgiving 1974
He was devoted to my grandmother and ready to help whenever needed.
But well before I was born, he was ready to help his country when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.
Elzie Moore in 1941.
He didn’t talk much about it, but I remember the day I was sitting on his lap examining his face. I asked him about the prominent scar on the side of his chin. He laughingly told me a variety of wild hair-brained stories as to how he got it. He then simply and quietly told me he had been shot during the war. That was that.
The story was later confirmed by my dad, who went on to explain that was just one of several wounds Uncle Elzie sustained through a heroic career.
And now, so many decades later, the details from the records themselves appear on my screen. In the WWII Hospital Admission Card Files released this month by Ancestry, I discovered not one but three different admission records.
The first was the admission record for that chin injury. He was admitted to the hospital in July of 1944 for a facial wound by a “bullet, missile” sustained in battle. He was discharged in September 1944 and sent back to the front line.
WWI Hospital Admission Records at Ancestry.com
The next record was an admission in November 1944 (although there appears to be a discrepancy in the transcription because the discharge date is listed as May 1944.) This time his injuries were shells and fragments to the thigh, buttock and hip in battle.
When working with these records it’s important to closely examine the service number listed. The third record had also matched “Elzie Moore” which you wouldn’t think was a common name. However, closer inspection revealed a different service number – he was not the same man.
Check the service number to confirm you have the right person.
Though the man himself rarely spoke of his service, the genealogy gems I found today in the records speak volumes. I’m grateful to have more of the story behind the “Purple Heart” inscription that appears on his grave marker.
Elzie Cecil Moore grave marker
I hope this week’s list below brings you new genealogy gems!
“The Household Examination Books are the primary source for researching the lives of individuals and families throughout the Parishes of Sweden, from the late 1600’s until modern times. The books were created and kept by the Swedish Lutheran Church which was tasked with keeping the official records of the Swedish population until 1991.
Each book or series of books represents a 3-10 year period of time within a parish. Every year until 1894 the Parish Priest would visit each home and test each individual’s knowledge of the catechism. They would also collect information about birth dates, marriages, deaths, where people had moved to or from, etc. Each year the priest would come back and update the information of the previous year, noting changes within the population of the home. After 1894 the examinations were less focused on doctrinal knowledge and more focused on enumerating the Swedish population.”
The British Newspaper Archive
“This week we are delighted to welcome 71,598 additional pages to The Archive, as well as five brand new titles. Two of these titles, the Wakefield Express and the South Notts Echo, originate in England, while the other three, the Leinster Reporter, the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, and the Times of India are spread out across Ireland, Wales and India respectively.”
Years added: 1897-1925, 1927-1928
Caernarvon & Denbigh Herald
Years added: 1850-1872, 1874-1877, 1897
Times of India
Years added: 1861-1865, 1867-1888
Years added: 1879, 1892, 1897-1898, 1902, 1911, 1918
South Notts Echo
Years added: 1919-1923, 1927-1939
What Have You Found this Week?
Did you find some genealogy gems in any of these new records? We’d love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below.
And if you enjoyed this article we’d be grateful if you shared it on Facebook and other social media to help other family historians. You’ll find convenient sharing buttons at the top of this article. Thank you!
Early American Ancestors Research Elevenses with Lisa Episode 33
Lindsay Fulton, VP New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)
In this episode we head back to 17th century New England with Lindsay Fulton of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org
Lindsay Fulton is with American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society where leads the Research and Library Services team as Vice President. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog and was featured in the Emmy-Winning Program: Finding your Roots: The Seedlings, a web series inspired by the popular PBS series “Finding Your Roots.”
Watch the video and follow along with the show notes below as we cover how to get started researching our early American ancestors. Lindsay will also provide her top genealogical resources.
Getting Started with Colonial-Era Research
During this period of American history, New England includes:
To get started in Colonial-Era genealogical research, Lindsay says the first thing you need to do is put your ancestors into an historical context:
When did they arrive in New England?
Where did they migrate to?
Significant dates and events at this time include:
The Mayflower’s arrival in 1620
The Great Migration: 1620-1640, with the peak years between 1633 and 1638.
The Civil War in England, which slowed migration.
Turn to the book The Expansion of New England, The spread of New England Settlement and Institutions to the Mississippi Rover 1620-1865 by L. K. Mathews. Published in 1909 this important book includes 30 to 40 historical maps.
More Resources for 17th Century American Genealogy Research
AmericanAncestors.org/town-guides/ for New England
Early New England Finding Aids
Finding Aids provide a comprehensive list of all the available records for a person / family.
The first place to look for people settling in New England prior to 1700: New England Marriages Prior to 1700 by Clarence Almon Torrey. This book includes scholarship prior to 1962. Learn more about it here.
The next place to look: Founders of Early American Families by Meredith Colkert. Scholarship goes a little further than 1962 and ventures beyond New England. This book covers 1607-1657.
The next place to look: New Englanders in the 1600s, A Guide to Genealogical Research Published Between 1980 and 2010 by Martin E. Hollick. At the beginning of the book there is a key to all of the original sources. For example, TAG refers to The American Genealogist.
From Lindsay: “The thing about 17th century research, like a said at the beginning, the most studied people on the planet. So, don’t reinvent the wheel, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to find all of this information on your own. You have to stand on the shoulders of those who have come before you. There are all of these people who have done all this research before. Please look at first. Always look at with a little bit of hesitation because there’s always possibilities that mistakes were made. But at least take a peek at what’s already been done first!”
Colonial-Era Study Projects
The first example that Lindsay provided of a study project for early American ancestors is the Great Migration Study Project (searchable online database at AmericanAncestors.org)
Directed by Robert Charles Anderson, FASG
Started in 1988
Genealogical and biographical sketch for immigrants to New England from 1620 to 1640
Fourteen published volumes
Newsletter (bound versions available)
Tours and other educational programs
Searchable online databases
The Great Migration Directory, Immigrants to New England, 1620-1640
The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633 (3 vols.)
The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England 1634-1635 (7 vols.)
The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620-1633
The Winthrop Fleet: Massachusetts Bay Company Immigrants to New England 1629-1630
The Great Migration Newsletter, vols. 1-20
The Mayflower Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth, 1620
Those who are included in the study project:
If person appeared in a record
Direct or indirect implication of arrival
Appearance of an immediate family of a person known to have arrived
New England Historical and Genealogical Register (published since 1847)
New York Biographical & Genealogical Record
The Mayflower Descendant
The American Genealogist
These can be searched on AmericanAncestors.org: Database Search > Select the Category Journals and Periodicals, and then scroll through all of the available items. They are fully searchable. You will be able to see the actual record. You can download and print the items.
Mayflower Research Resources
The Silver books and the Pink books done by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. It’s looking at those passengers with known descendants. These are only available currently in book form. If you are interested in applying to the Mayflower Society, they accept these as original records. You can cite the pages. (Learn more about Mayflower related resources at American Ancestors.)
Mayflower Families 5th Gen. Desc.
Available at AmericanAncestors.org
Index of all the 5th Generation descendants,
their spouses and children
If you click Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880, it will take you to a search page where you can search by names and years, or search by volumes. It will bring up all of the available records.
General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) Membership Applications, 1620-1920
New – available soon. Only on AmericanAncestors.org
Contains all Mayflower Society Applications for applicants born before 1920. Approximately ~30,000 applications
All data indexed for each generation
Available to: American Ancestors & NEHGS Members, FamilySearch Affiliate members, and GSMD Members.
New England Genealogy Records
When doing New England genealogy research look for the following records:
Probate Records Court Records
Usually you’ll be looking at the town level. This is why you must know where your ancestors were living, and what the place was called at that time, and what the borders were.
Premium Podcast episode 177 (Genealogy Gems Premium Membership is required.) In this episode we explore the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors website with Claire Vail, Director of Creative and Digital Strategy for the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Answers to Your Live Chat Questions About Colonial American Genealogy
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Susan W: Is there a source for Rhode Island? (I’m not sure if she was thinking about one particular resource you mentioned or generally. Perhaps she just needs a RI finding aid?) From Lindsay: Yes! American Ancestors-NEHGS has a fantastic guide to Rhode Island research, which you can access with a free guest membership here.
From Cindy A: What percentage of the items you showed would require a paid membership? From Lindsay: The majority of the databases shown are included as a benefit of membership with American Ancestors-NEHGS, but if you are interested in Colonial American genealogy, you should consider membership. We have hundreds of databases that will help you to discover more about your 17th and 18th Century ancestry. You can learn more about these databases (and books in the library) with a free guest membership.
From Sue M: What resource was Nathan Snow in. He’s related to my BATES family. From Lindsay: Nathan Snow was included in the American Ancestors-NEHGS database, Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. This database supports the following searchable fields: First and last name, Year, Record type, Location, Family member names: Spouse, Mother and Father (where available), Keyword – for names in the lineage text of direct descendants.
From Kathy M: Excellent. Can you comment on both land inheritance (i.e. did it follow English primogeniture) and on best sources for finding 1600 female ancestors’ family names. From Lindsay: Alicia Crane Williams wrote a blog post about this entitled, Probate records: Part One, where she states, “for the most part, a testator could leave anything to anyone, unless they were dealing with colonies such as Virginia that followed the laws of primogeniture where all real estate was left to the oldest son. This did not apply in New England, although it was customary to follow the legal model of giving a double share to the oldest son. A legitimate heir who was left out of a will could potentially contest it in court, thus the bequests of one pound or one dollar to cover any claim that someone had been accidentally forgotten.” For more information about land inheritance in New England (and the U.S.), you should examine Wade Hone’s Land & Property Research in the United States. It is an excellent deep-dive into land records. As for female ancestors’ family names in the 1600s, I would recommend examining Torrey’s New England Marriages and Hollick’s New Englanders in the 1600s. Those are the two best places to start your search for the ladies in your family (I covered these in the episode too).
From Louann H: Suggestions for time period 1660-1776? From Lindsay: Many of the resources discussed during the presentation covered the 17th century, and would be your best bet for resources for 1660-1700. You can learn more about these databases (and books in the library) with a free guest membership. After 1700, there are few compiled resources similar to the Great Migration Study Project; however, you could start with a search of the American Ancestors-NEHGS Library catalog. We have thousands of published genealogies that may cover your family history in the first half of the 18th Century.
From Jane C: This has been wonderful, doing Mayflower research. What are Notarial Records? From Lindsay: Notarial records are a private agreement written by a notary in the form of a contract. Some of the most common ones are marriage contracts, wills, estate inventories, leases, and sales contracts. While they were not common record keeping practices in New England and New York, notarial records were plentiful in Quebec. You can learn more about them by watching our free webinar called Navigating Notarial Records in Quebec.
News You Can Use: Google Photos Update
Google Photos is currently the home of more than 4 trillion photos and videos of users around the world. According to Google, 29 billion new photos and videos are uploaded every week. They just announced that starting June 1, 20201 “all new photos and videos backed up in High Quality will count toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with your Google account or any additional storage you may have purchased, the same way other Google services like Google Drive and Gmail already do.”
In that episode we discuss that “High Quality” is the slightly compressed version of images and videos and “Original” quality are full size, uncompressed images and videos. In the past you could upload “High Quality” for free.
All “High Quality” content uploaded before June 1, 2021 is exempt from counting against your storage. On that date they plan to launch a new storage management tool that they say will help you easily identify items you’re currently storing that you may want to remove if they are low quality or otherwise unwanted. This will help you reduce the amount of storage you use.
If you don’t want to pay for additional storage, here are some tips:
Use Google Photos as a tool for specific projects rather than a complete storage system.
Turn off auto-sync of your photos from your phone and other devices.
Carefully select and manually add images and videos.
Findmypast Granted Free Access to International Records Ahead of Veterans day 2019
The free access promotion ended at 12 pm GMT on Monday, November 11th
Findmypast includes more than 85 million military records covering the Armed Forces of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Researches can search for their ancestors in a variety of fascinating documents ranging from service records and pensions to medal rolls, POW records, casualty lists and more.
New Historical Records at MyHeritage
From the MyHeritage blog: “18.6 million new historical records have been added in October 2019 in seven new collections from all over the world, including:
the former Soviet Union,
the United States,
Here are the full details of these new record collections:
Australia Death Notices, 1860–2019
“This collection of over 7 million records contains death notices, funeral notices, and obituaries from Australia from a variety of sources. The dates of these notices primarily range from 1900–2019, with a few entries from the previous 50 years.”
Spain, Bilbao Diocese, Catholic Parish Records, 1501–1900
“This collection of over 4.9 million records consists of baptism, marriage, and death records for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bilbao in Spain. The majority of the records correspond to the historical region of Biscay, Spain within the Basque Country, with a small minority of records from Cantabria.
Baptismal records contain the following searchable information: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the child and parents, date, and location. For marriages: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the bride and groom, date, and location. For death records: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the deceased, date, and location. The parish is also listed in most records.”
Soviet Union, Soldier Memorials, 1915–1950
“The 4.5 million records in this collection provide details on soldiers from the Soviet Union who died or went missing during the wars in the early to mid-20th century.
Information listed on these records may include:
year of birth
place of birth
date of retirement
place of retirement
These records might also include place of service, cause of death, and hospitalizations. Most of the information in this collection is in Russian. MyHeritage provides the ability to search this collection in one language and receive results in another using its unique Global Name Translation™ technology. The technology automatically translates given names and surnames into the language of the query. For example, a search for Alessandro (Alexander in Italian) will also find “Саша,” the Russian form of Sasha — a popular nickname for Alexander — with its corresponding translation into the language of your search.”
“In the city of Riga during the interwar period, every person over the age of 15 was supposed to have an internal passport as proof of identity. This database of 890,811 records includes residents of Riga and may include the surname, given name, father’s name, date of birth, place of birth, and place of origin of the passport holder. This collection is completely free to search, view, and add to your family tree.
Many of the internal passport files contain all addresses the person lived at during the passport’s validity, including those outside of Riga.
Whenever the passport’s validity expired, the passport was to be returned to the government. It is not known how many actually returned their passport to the government, so this collection is not a complete representation of all people who lived in Riga during this period of time.”
United States Index of Gravestones, 1900–2018
“This collection includes 601,986 records from more than 25 cemeteries located in the United States.
The records include headstone inscriptions and burial records. In these records you may find information such as:
date of birth
date of death
date of burial
place of burial
Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women.
Records from cemeteries in the following states can be found in this collection:
and South Dakota.”
Germany, Emigrants from Southwestern Germany, 1736–1963
“This collection of 285,158 records is an index of emigrants leaving Southwestern Germany largely between 1736 and 1963. Records may contain the following searchable information: first and last name, birth date, date and county of emigration, and first and last name of a relative.
The following information may also be viewable:
additional information on the family of the individual.
Emigration from Germany occurred in a number of waves, triggered by current events such as the July Revolution of 1830, the 1848 March Revolution, the foundation of the German Reich in the 1870s, World War I, and other significant events. The majority of the records from this collection are from the mid 1750s to the early 1900s.”
Denmark, Copenhagen Burials, 1860–1912
“This collection of 255,733 records is an index to burial records from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Records typically list:
the name of the deceased
In some cases, the deceased’s age, occupation, and cause of death may also be listed.
Burials usually took place with a few days of death. Burials in Denmark were recorded in the records of the parish where the burial occurred. Original burial records have been digitized and made searchable by the Copenhagen City Archives.”
Sample: Thorvald Nikolaj Thiele Died: Sep 26 1910 Danish astronomer and director of the Copenhagen Observatory. He was also an actuary and mathematician.
Enjoy searching all of these new collections that are now available on MyHeritage SuperSearch™. Searching these records is always free, and you can also view and save records to your family tree from the Latvia, Riga Internal Passport Holders Index for free. To access Record Matches or to view or save records from the other collections, you’ll need a Data or Complete subscription.
MyHeritage’s Record Matching technology will notify you automatically if any of these records mention a member of your family tree. You’ll then be able to review the record and decide if you’d like to add the new information to your tree. Learn more about Record Matches on MyHeritage Education.
New Digitized Collections at the Library of Congress
From the Library of Congress: “Researchers and students have gained access to seven newly digitized collections of manuscript materials from the Library of Congress, including records of one of the most important women’s suffrage organizations, the papers of President Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary and collections on the history of federal monetary policy. The availability of these collections added more than 465,000 images to the Library’s already vast online resources.”