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A KISS Approach to Family Records

This article presents a brief review of some of the different types of family history records and what one may or may not find in each.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Sarah Culton
Word Count: 859 (approx.)
Labels: Birth Record 
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First of all, as used in this article, KISS stands for "Keep It Super Simple." When dealing with genealogical records of any type, it does the researcher well to first have some knowledge of what the parameters for each may be. This article presents a brief, and hopefully useful review of some of the available categories of family history records, and what one may or may not be able to find in each. I have learned from experience through some "hard knocks" along the way that taking this approach can be extremely valuable, both in time and money spent. If you are like me, living in our time of  "economic woes" and trying to pursue what we really love to do, this is not an easy matter!

For our immediate ancestors, birth certificates and death certificates at the state level can yield a tremendous amount of information. They may include date of event, city, county, sex, birth or death location, father's surname and/or mother's maiden name. Other information may include time of event with age, address, occupation, race, and hospital name where the event occurred. However, policies do vary from state to state, and some states will only issue a birth certificate to the living person for whom it was recorded. Other states will only issue a birth certificate for a named individual if there is proof that the person is no longer living and, in some cases, only to a member of the immediate family. Prior to the late 1800s and early 1900s, the majority of births and deaths occurred at home, and no official records were kept of these events. Therefore, it is important to consider the timing of the events which are related to your ancestors before "plunging ahead." To secure these documents, I contacted the Bureau of Health, Division of Vital Statistics in the birth states of my ancestors, which was the most economical way to go.1

Federal Census records which are now available were first taken in 1790 and every ten years thereafter, but are available only through 1930. To protect those who are still living, more recent records are not available to the public. Not a great deal of information is given in any of the census years prior to 1850. Prior to 1880, probably the most inexpensive way is to search county and state indexes, but it does take considerable time. Census records for the years 1880 to 1930, except for 1890 when all the records were destroyed by fire, give a great deal of information on individuals including those who migrated from Europe during that period of time. Addresses, relationship of each individual to the head of the house, date of birth, age at last birthday, mother of how many children, number of living children, place of birth of each person and parents, citizenship, occupation, education, home ownership and year of immigration or naturalization are the types of information that can be found.

Although these government records are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC and at their regional offices, they can be readily obtained at public libraries. Some libraries also offer subscription sites such as Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest.com. Local Family History Centers which are located all across our country also offer superior service.2  During my years in genealogy, I have obtained census records from all of the above named sources for very little cost, if any!

The original location of legally binding marriage and divorce records can be found at the county and state level, sometimes in the loose records if they were not officially recorded. One major problem in finding these records is that some couples who married at home or in churches never had their certificates recorded. Subsequently, they were lost or forgotten by family members, and remember that "back in those days," a divorce may not have been accepted, discussed or ever acknowledged by those closest to the individuals involved. Another thing that sometimes happened was the destruction of courthouses during war time, which consequently destroyed many records. I was able to find the marriage records for all of my ancestors, except for those who married near the time of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

In conclusion, this is just a sampling of the records which are in the public domain, free to all and they cannot be copyrighted! I just came across an online source for one of my records which listed at $75.00. It was the exact same record for which I covered the cost of copying and mailing for a small fraction of that amount, somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.00. There are people out there who will charge you a lot of money for what is readily available for considerably less. I guess that is just the "Scotch" in me! It is also part of my definition of KISS as used in this article. However, if "money is of no concern," then more power to you!

1A helpful resource for learning about record holdings and where to write for vital records in the U.S., see Where to Write For Vital Records at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/howto/w2w/w2welcom.htm.

2 To locate a Family History Center near you, visit FamilySearch.org

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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