Research Tips

Tips to help you in your searches:

City directories are one of the most available sources. And useful, too, containing name, address, employer, and occasionally other information. The first place to locate such materials is the library in the town itself, or one nearby. The Library of Congress has a significant collection and many for larger cities are available on microfilm.

Individuals who don’t appear in the Social Security Death Index might still have an SS-5 form on file with the Social Security Administration. The SS-5 Form, Application for a Social Security Number, should be available for anyone who had a social security number. It may be possible to obtain someone’s social security number from their death certificate, employment records, or personal papers.

The metes and bounds description contained in an old land record may be more than you wish to tackle. However, read those descriptions for names of those whose property borders your ancestor. Names of other geographical features may provide additional clues to the actual location of the property.

The federal population censuses are decennial censuses (that means they are taken every ten years). Federal population censuses started in 1790 and are conducted in every year ending in a “0.” However, special federal censuses and some state censuses have been taken during non-federal census years. Genealogy guide books, such as The Source or the Handy Book for Genealogists contain information about non-federal census records.

You should be sure to reference intermediate and final accountings in probate records. Some heirs might have died before the estate was finally settled and these accountings might list the names of their heirs. Accountings might also clear up ambiguities in the original will itself.

When researching with the 1900, 1910, or 1920 census, you should be aware that the originals of these census records were destroyed in 1946. Because of this, missing pages and poorly microfilmed pages cannot be re-filmed. If you aren’t able to decipher the census microfilm, you may have better luck with other sources from the same time period such as city directories, state census records, or school records.

If you’re researching with the 1910 Census, you may wish to consult the 1910 Census City Street Finding Aid. Thirty-nine cities were included in this directory, in which streets are arranged alphabetically and listed with their enumeration district. This can make it easier to find families in the records.

Remember, the information you seek isn’t always available! Sometimes things just get lost. When I researched professionally, a client wondered what type of courthouse I was working in that would misplace a court book from the 1830’s. Consider, however, that over 150 years a record may have seen three courthouses, numerous clerks and staff members, new file systems, and more — indeed, we are lucky to locate anything!