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.
- 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
- 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).
- Ancestry.com 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 site:cyndislist.com 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
- FindAGrave.com (owned by Ancestry.com) – free; searchable cemetery records
- HeritageQuest (owned by ProQuest) – accessible online with a current public library card number from Henrico, Pamunkey (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 Ancestry.com 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, Ancestry.com 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
- Ancestry.com Academy – videos, webinars, tutorials
- Ancestry.com Support Center – articles
- Family Search Learning Center with webinars, articles, etc.
- Genealogy charts and forms (in PDF from Ancestry.com) – including Ancestral Chart, Family Group Record, and Census forms
- HeritageQuest Guide by ProQuest
- National Archives (NARA): Genealogy Guide
- Ten Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- The Census Book (HeritageQuest; login required) record of census questions and process, 1790-1930
- 10 Census Tips (PDF) – from Ancestry.com 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
- African American ancestry research (Family Search)
- African American family research (Ancestry.com)
- BIA Guide to Tracing Ancestry
Cuban Genealogy Club of Miami
Indian subcontinent (from BBC)
Korean genealogy databases
- Mexico GenWeb
Mexican ancestry research (Family Search)
Tracing American Indian Ancestry(from Michigan)
Tribal Leaders Directory (scroll down for link)
Tips about specific types of records:
State and regional resources
- 1940 Virginia Census
- Chancery Records (LVA) – docs from disputes about land, inheritance, debt, etc. See FAQ’s for abbreviations. There’s also a list of what’s been digitized.
- Documenting the American South (UNC-Chapel Hill)
- Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau (1865-72)
- Library of Virginia – digital collections by topic
- Unknown No Longer – (VMHC) database of VA slave names (see video intro)
- VA Gen Web (volunteer-run)
- Virginia Genealogy (UVA)
National and global resources
- 1940 U.S. Census – find ancestor’s enumeration district to browse images; not searchable by name
- Africana Heritage Project (USF)
- Archival Research Catalog (NARA)
- Cyndi’s List (directory of web sites)
- Ellis Island Foundation (register)
- Genealogical Web Guide (JMU)
- Historical Document Collections in FamilySearch – listed by location
- National Archives: Genealogy
- Social Security Death Index
- US Gen Web (volunteer-run)
Historical societies and museums
- Charles City Archives – among the best online resources from local archives
- Chesterfield County
- Goochland County
- Hanover County
- Henrico County
- King and Queen County
- King William County
- Historic Petersburg Foundation
- Powhatan County
- Prince George County
- Virginia Museum of History and Culture
Using oral history to capture your family’s stories
- Great Questions (from StoryCorps)
- Interview Techniques to Avoid (Ancestry.com)
- Oral History Interviews – planning and interview tips from the American Folklife Center
- Tips for Interviewing Veterans – Preparing for and conducting the interview
Oral history archives