Do you enjoy stories?  Solving mysteries or making discoveries?  Then you’ll enjoy genealogical research. The documents you’re encounter may include birth, marriage, and death records; census records; legal and financial records; historic maps; immigration records; military records; church records; historic newspapers; and personal items like letters, diaries, photographs, and family bibles. Consider conducting interviews to capture the stories of your living family members too.

Key databases


  • Chronicling America (newspapers) – see Topic List for ideas
  • Historical Newspapers (ProQuest) – requires school login off-campus; to search only historic newspapers, click “change databases,” then deselect all options except three newspaper archives: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Guardian/Observer
  • Virginia Chronicle (LVA) – this database includes nearly 500,000 pages of Virginia newspapers not included in the Chronicling America database

Ancestry and immigration

Privacy note: Before using a genealogy site to build a family tree and/or upload family artifacts, please read their privacy policy AND consult with a parent/guardian.

  • African American Heritage (from ProQuest, a U.S. company based in MI) – family genealogy resources focused on African American heritage. Available to Richmond library patrons inside their local library branch(es).
  • Library Edition (a U.S. company based in UT) – Available to Chesterfield, Heritage (Charles City and New Kent), Pamunkey (Hanover, Goochland, King and Queen, King William), Petersburg, and Richmond public library patrons inside their local library branch(es).
  • Castle Garden (from The Battery Conservancy in NY) – free; registration required; searchable database of 11 million records of immigrants who arrived at the Port of New York from 1820 – 1892
  • Cyndi’s List (based in WA) – free searchable collection of links to genealogical resources. Note: you may also search these links by adding to your Google search.
  • Ellis Island Foundation (NY)  free; registration required
  • Family Search (by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a.k.a., LDS) – free genealogical records database and family-tree maker; registration required
  • (owned by – free; searchable cemetery records
  • HeritageQuest (owned by ProQuest) – accessible online with a current public library card number from HenricoPamunkey (Hanover, Goochland, King and Queen, King William), or Powhatan.
  • National Archives records
  • US Gen Web (free, volunteer-run)
  • Virginia Gen Web (free, volunteer-run)

In addition to and ProQuest (providers of African American Heritage and HeritageQuest), other major companies in this field include My Heritage (an Israeli company with U.S. office in UT) and Find My Past (a UK company with a focus on England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and U.S. heritage).

Subscriptions to commercial social genealogy sites typically cost from $50 to $400 per year. Currently, and Find My Past offer free 14-day trials. My Heritage offers free basic access which provides 500 MB of storage and spots for up to 250 people on a family tree. The big three companies also provide free access to some records:

Cultural note: As you use social genealogy resources, you may notice an opportunity for broader inclusiveness in their design. Currently, the default icons for people on most family-tree sites are seldom multicultural in their imagery. Similarly, gender representation is mostly binary. This is the reality of the industry at the present time. Creating your own family tree with family photos can personalize your tree and provide a more detailed and holistic tapestry of your ancestry.

Tips and forms

 Forms and general tips 

Census tips

  • The Census Book (HeritageQuest; login required) record of census questions and process, 1790-1930
  • 10 Census Tips (PDF) – from members
  • Address instead of a name? Identify the related Enumeration District for that census year. This tips page for 1940 census can get you started.
  • Historical notes about the decennial census (US Census Bureau) such as release dates, info on 1890 census, American Indians in census, etc.
  • Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 (HeritageQuest; login required)

Ethnic heritage research tips



Tips about specific types of records:

State and regional resources

National and global resources

Historical societies and museums

Using oral history to capture your family’s stories

Oral history archives



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