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Search Ancestors, Ancestry, Geneology

Geneological Research

Some of the most useful records for genealogical research are:

  • Census Records
  • Military Records
  • Immigration Records (Ship Passenger Lists)
  • Naturalization Records

Land Records


Census Records, (from 1790-1930):

The Federal Population Census has been taken every 10 years, beginning in 1790. The National Archives has the census schedules on microfilm available from 1790 to 1930. (Note: Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a Department of Commerce fire, though partial records are available for some states.) There is a 72-year restriction on access to population census schedules, which is why 1930 is the latest year currently available. 

Census records can provide the building blocks of your research, allowing you to both confirm information, and to learn a lot more. From 1790-1840 only the head of household is listed, (along with the number of household members in different age groups). However, beginning with 1850, details are provided for all individuals in households. 

Depending upon the census year, some of the information that the records may provide includes:

  • the names of family members
  • their ages at a certain point in time
  • their state or country of birth
  • their parent's birthplaces
  • year of immigration
  • their street address
  • marriage status and years of marriage
  • occupation(s)
  • value of their home and personal belongings
  • the crops that they grew (in agricultural schedules), etc.

Land Records:

The land records that are generally of most interest to genealogists are the land entry case files. These are records that document the transfer of public lands from the U.S. Government to private ownership. There are over ten million such individual land transactions in the custody of the National Archives. These case files cover land entries in all 30 public land states. 

Land case entry files can contain a wealth of genealogical and legal information. Depending upon the type and time period of the land entry, the case file may yield only a few facts already known to the researcher or it may present new insights about ancestors, family history, title, and land use issues. For example, the records may attest to the one's age, place of birth, citizenship, military service, literacy, and economic status, and may even include similar information about family members. But even the smallest case files can establish locations of land ownership or settlement and dates essential to utilize other resources at NARA, such as census, court, and military service and pension records.

Immigration (Ship Passenger Lists):

The immigration records, also known as "ship passenger arrival records," for arrivals to the United States between 1820 and 1982. Records are arranged by Port of Arrival. (Pre-1820 records may be on file at the port of entry or at the state archives in the state where the port is located.)

Immigration records may provide genealogists with information such as:

  • one's nationality, place of birth
  • ship name and date of entry to the United States
  • age, height, eye and hair color
  • profession
  • place of last residence
  • name and address of relatives they are joining in the U.S.
  • amount of money they are carrying, etc.

Military Service and Pension, 1775-1902:

The military service records from the Revolutionary War to 1912 in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Military records from WWI - present are held in the National Military Personnel Records Center (NPRC), in St. Louis, Missouri.

The most commonly requested military-related records used by genealogists are: Compiled Military Service Records for Volunteers, Pension Applications and Pension Payment Records, and Bounty Land Records. These records can often provide valuable information on the veteran, as well as on all members of the family. For example:

  • Compiled service records will provide you with your ancestor's rank, unit, date mustered in and mustered out, basic biographical information, medical information, and military information. 

  • Pension application files usually provide the most genealogical information. These files often contain supporting documents such as: narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, letters received from the veteran while in service, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting papers. 

  • Bounty land records, from claims based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855, often contain documents similar to those in pension files, with lots of genealogical information. Many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files.

There is no simple explanation for how to begin research in military records. Your research path will depend on aspects such as: what branch of service your ancestor was in, which conflict, what dates, whether Regular Army or a volunteer unit, whether your ancestor was an officer or enlisted personnel, and whether there was a pension application

Naturalization Records:

The naturalization records for Federal Courts. Prior to 1906, any municipal, county, state, or Federal court could grant U.S. citizenship, so you may need to contact the relevant State Archives to search in these records as well. 

Naturalization records can provide a researcher with information such as a person's birth date and location, occupation, immigration year, marital status and spouse information, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.