Governmental Records

Trying to put together a family tree, or to learn more about your ancestors can be frustrating! You may be finding a lot of “dead ends”, which leave you with unanswered questions. Perhaps you uncovered a photo, and aren’t entirely sure who that person is. Sometimes stories that get handed down from one family member to another are vague. You know someone got married, but when, exactly, and to whom? It can be confusing.

One way to clear up some of the details that you aren’t certain of is to locate a birth certificate, marriage certificate, death certificate, or some other form of official governmental document. Where should you begin to look for those?

The first place to start is at home. Look through the old copies of important documents left behind from your relatives. You might find an actual birth or marriage certificate there. Another good place to start looking for these important documents is at the library of a local court, or a town hall. First, figure out where your relative was most likely born, married, or died, and then try to discern what governmental office would have had jurisdiction based on the location. This will take some research. Over time, boundary lines can change, which might mean you need to search more than one court or town hall in order to find the information you seek. Take good notes about the information you find, so you won’t need to return and do the same search again.

Take some time to learn how to use microfiche. The paper that a document was printed on will not last forever, and so, many libraries have turned to saving these on film. Obtaining copies of a governmental record is likely to cost money, so be prepared.

There are a few online resources you can use. I would recommend starting with websites that say .gov at the end, because these are governmental sites. Some of the other ones may or may not have good information. Be very careful whom you give a social security number to, because this can be used for identity theft.

The National Archives http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/ has access to a variety of different kinds of official records. Some include Census, Military Service, Immigration and Naturalization records, Land records, and Bankruptcy records. This website can also give you some more tips about how to begin your search into your family’s genealogy.