Every country conducts a census of its population, usually every 10 years. For Americans, the census has become increasingly detailed, with not just residents but by 1940 even including job titles and place of employment. In addition, some states and cities have conducted interim census studies in years between the decennial census. They will also indicate place of birth – and citizenship status.

Not just are the census results important in tracking relatives, but they give clues about family associations from those who live in the neighborhood. They also often show family members temporarily sharing housing while at school or before marrying. Sometimes the census includes unique data, such as the 1930 U.S. Census which asked if the family owned a radio. Later censuses also included occupation and income estimates.

Census data can usually be easily found by consulting at your local library. If you can print a copy of the census page in 8.5” x 11” it helps enormously with the legibility. I keep census records together by year because you’ll go back over the years to check data on family & neighbors.


Especially for farm families, land ownership atlases can be helpful in locating family homesteads – even two centuries later. The early horse paths and roads almost became paved and numbered state and county routes.

These atlases were collected privately and published. Two good examples are for my family (the Fry family) in Ashland County, Ohio. Each of these atlases cover the entire county, so are broken down into the townships. They show the passing of farmland from the first generation in the county (John & Catherine Fry) to the second generation.

McDonnell’s 1861 Land Ownership map:
Mohican Township

Caldwell’s 1874 Atlas:
page 104

Some, like the Caldwell 1874 Atlas, are illustrated with drawings of farm buildings, orchards, woods and factories.


American military records are kept in St. Louis at the National Personnel Records Center. As long as a veteran is alive, they are private, but direct family can access them after a veterans death.

We did that with my father-in-law after he died – sending the military records to each of his children. There is a problem – a 1973 fire destroyed a huge block of Army files – but there is still substantial information available. It requires filing an SF-180 form but it is very straightforward, particularly if you have the social security number:
Military Personnel Records at St. Louis:
Military records

Access Genealogy's guide to military records also has links to a number of military records. They have a good collection of links to a variety of sources:
Access Genealogy
"Military Records – Types" (undated)


There are a variety of private services that have made Social Security birth/death records available since the system was established in 1935. The Death Master File (DMF) from the Social Security Administration (SSA) currently contains over 94 million records.

Finding the Social Security number can be particularly helpful in tracing military and other records. It also is helpful in confirming whether someone is dead or alive.

Probably the best search facility is – especially if you have access to the service through your library (as opposed to paying for it on a monthly basis).


Prior to 1906, any "court of record" (municipal, county, state, or Federal) could grant U.S. citizenship. In many locales it was the county court that handled it. For a great great grandparent who came from England in the 1840s, I would go to the Ashland County courthouse in Ohio – but all records there were lost in fire during the 1920s. And that’s a common situation that old county records were damaged by water or a fire.

However, you can contact the National Archives or the NARA facility near you to see if any county or state records are available:
National Archives and Records Administration

After 1906, immigration & naturalization became a federal function and you want to look for TWO documents. Before becoming a citizen, a “Petition for Naturalization” has to be filed. Later the naturalization process would be completed and a “Certificate of Naturalization” was issued. There was some incentive to lie about times of arrival in the United States because a “Petition for Naturalization” had to be filed within 15 years of arrival in order to own real estate in the United States.

It appears that the process of obtaining the federal records has changed. When I made requests for my grandfather about 10 years ago, it was done via a FOIA Request Form to the U.S. Department of Justice. National Archives websites now indicate that this information is available online at the regional facilities or at the National Archives in Washington, DC:
“Naturalizations after 1906”

Also try the Genealogy Program at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at least to locate record numbers:
“Requesting Records”
Records requests

Surprisingly, parentage is not mentioned in any of the immigration & naturalization documents. However, death certificates or obituaries often contain that information.


These will be filed in the county where the person being sought died. For my grandfather, Andrew, I’d never seen a listing of either parent until his death certificate, which listed his father’s name.


All of the previous techniques rely on historical records for family research. But for about 20 years now, using your personal DNA is a way to find family links. Two very popular services now each have millions of participants -- 23andme and

Both rely on a saliva test for DNA samples and both provide a list of relatives, ethnic origin and family tree information. Subscribers can also pay extra for DNA health tendencies that cover everything from inclination for diabetes to whether or not the herb cilantro tastes like soap. They also offer options to participants to communicate with relatives identified via DNA test.

In my case, it confirmed a relationship to cousins discovered late in life, after one of the cousins had seen a family genealogy page and surmised that their grandfather was my grandmother's brother.

Facebook offers no such DNA services but with last names and geographic locations, it can be helpful in opening up channels of communication to resources in foreign countries or distant locations. I have been sent a distant (and perhaps) unrelated family tree with the same surname by a contact on Facebook.

A friend doing research on his maternal family in Lithuania has been able to use Facebook contacts to get pictures and historical information of a village that was destroyed in World War II.




Last updated: 12/21/2020

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A collection of material written by Andy Czernek, of Mukilteo, WA.

Other websites maintained the author include:
* Mooney Events, a calendar and other resources for owners of Mooney Aircraft

* Fry Family of Ashland County, Ohio, a family genealogy site

* Sinking of the SS Golden Gate, the story of the fire and sinking of the steamship off Manzanilla, Mexico in 1862


Because the website has pages on dozens of topics from aircraft to Zenith, we recommend using the site search box below: