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Family History: Researching your Family History

Starting your Research

1. Gather Family Info -- The first step in studying genealogy is discovering what you already know. Write down the names of all the relatives you know and anything you know about them (birth year, death year, residence, marriage, military service, and occupations). Go to any living relative and start asking questions.  Also ask if there are any family Bibles, scrapbooks, or letters that might include family information. The best way to begin your research is through the people you love.

Important note: When you are studying the genealogy of females, try and find out their maiden name. This will give you greater access to birth records and marriage records.

2. Develop a standard method of recording your information.

3. Look for Online Resources

4. Ask a Librarian for assistance

5. Travel -- Traveling and searching local libraries or historical societies for archives of town newspapers or local histories can provide you with even more information. If you know where someone was buried, visit the cemetery to find out birth and death dates and names of other relatives.

County Histories and Other Books

Many counties and towns, particularly in the Midwest, have recorded the history of their towns in the late 19th to the early 20th century.  Many of these histories include biographies of the people who lived there. Search for the county and state.

Genealogical Databases

Heritage Quest can be accessed with a library account at either Cedar Rapids Public Library or Iowa City Public Library. You will need to put in your library card number. The database includes Census records, genealogy and local history books, Periodical Source Index, Revolutionary War records, Freedman’s Bank Records, and more.

Ancestry is a subscription database offering access to Census records, Vital records, Military records, genealogy books, family trees, and much more. You can get Trial Access for 14 days.

Census Resources

Census -- The U.S. Census has been conducted every ten years since 1790. Before 1850 only the names of the heads of households were recorded. The 1890 Census records were destroyed in a fire. The latest census records that have been released to the public are the 1940 Census records.

Death Resources

Immigration Resources

If you think your ancestors arrived in America between 1892 and 1924, search the Ellis Island database.The database gives you images of ship passenger lists, and millions of people are documented immigrating to America.  This is a free service, but you must register on the site.

If your ancestors arrived in America between 1820 and 1892, you can use Castle Garden to search for their arrival.  

If your ancestors arrived in the nineteenth century and were of Russian, Irish, German or Italian descent, try the Passenger List database.

Searching the Internet

Google can be a great resource for family history, but it can be difficult to find what you are seeking.  Put your ancestor's name in quotes ("John Smith").  Add a place, the name of another relative, or a birthdate to narrow your results. ("john smith" and "allegany county")

Search Google

Also search Mocavo.  Like Google, Mocavo is a web search engine.  But it searches only genealogical resources.  You can get trial access for 14 days.

Search Mocavo

Family Trees

Genealogy Websites