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Clues to Help Find your Ancestors in Genealogy Documents

Taking on your family history as a project can be a lot of fun. Trying to discover heritage details through documents like census and military records through on-line resources like, fold3, FamilySearch, Archives, etc is a good place to start your journey. Below are some suggestions on how to successfully search census, immigration, and naturalization records.

Discovering your Ancestors in Census Records

The most common document used for genealogy is the census. They have an abundance of information that reveals data about a person and their family. Details can reveal: occupations, where they lived, how many children were born, how many are living, and much more.

When you search an online database, start by filling in all the search criteria fields - first and last name, approximate date of birth, where they were born, etc.

If you are not successful, try adding more people if the search allows for that. Depending on the person’s age and status, try adding a wife and child, or parents and siblings.

If that failed, try removing the last name, or use alternate spellings of first and last name.

If none of the above worked, look for the person in a city directory for the year that is closest to the census date. This will confirm if they were living where you thought they were. If you discover them in the directory, look up the names from the directory that surrounds your relative. When you find them, you should be able to locate your ancestor. Most likely there is a spelling error in the document or it was wrongly transcribed.

Find your Ancestors in Census Records

Finding your Family History in Immigration and Naturalization Records

To be successful in locating an immigration record, first find them in 1910, 1920, and 1930 census as it lists when they immigrated. This should give a good idea of what years to look for when searching immigration records.

If your search is unsuccessful, try removing the last name, or use alternate spellings of first and last name.

If you are still not finding your document, try naturalization records. Use the same inquiry method. If you are successful, the naturalization will reference a number that will lead to your naturalization record. This may reveal that the person had a different name at the time of immigration and that is why you couldn’t find the document in the first place. This record will usually give further information about the family members, with dates of birth, when they immigrated, the ship name, and more.

Find your Ancestors in Ship Manifests will often Reveal other Family Details

Look for more details about your relative in ship manifests. They often reveal why they were moving, who they were going to see, who was traveling with them, how much money they had, what they did for a living, and where they were born.

Finding your ancestors through Ellis Island or Castle Gardens should be fairly easy if you found them in a naturalization record. From that record you should know the ship name, arrival date, age at immigration and more.

If you have not looked for Naturalization records, or were unsuccessful, look at the 1910 to 1930 census records to get information as to when the person immigrated, and where they came from. Start your inquiry with as much detail as possible.

If you are having difficulty with the search, try removing details. Another suggestion is to try other family members’ names, use abbreviations, and other spellings.

Discover your Family History with Genealogy Research Tips

To be successful in finding documents for your ancestors, you need to try various techniques. We have listed a few tips that have helped us to find documents, when we thought the document did not exist.
  1. Focus on one question for one person at a time, otherwise you will find yourself running in circles.
  2. When you cannot find your ancestor, you may be looking in the wrong place or the name might be wrong. Think phonetically as to different possibilities of how someone could have written a name or place, so try different spellings. Also try searching by using parts of names, nicknames, or abbreviations. Also use other family members' names in your searches.
  3. Record everything you have tried to search even if you didn’t find what you were looking for. This will keep you from doing the same research in the future.
  4. Use a variety of different types of documents to discover your ancestors. Obituaries, probates, and last will and testaments probably have the most genealogical data in a single source. They can contain information that you would only receive by reading, transcribing, and understanding the details that are in these types of historical documents. You can usually locate and verify family relationships, especially helpful for discovering your female ancestors and who they married. They usually also contain other relevant information that can bring your ancestry to life and get to know a bit more about your family heritage.