Massachusetts, United States, Deaths 1841-1899Edit This Page

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The Basics on How to Search for Ancestors in the United States

While there is no set way to do research in the United States, this guide gives basic research steps and an explanation of the records.

The following list of suggested records is given in an order likely to help many people.

What you are looking for
An understanding of the research process and how to use the suggested list of records to search.

United States Previous Research, Part 1

Previous research is the work other people have done. By searching what others have already done, you may save hours. However, previous research is only as good as the skills of the person doing the research. Therefore, you should double check the information in previous research.

What you are looking for
Information about your ancestors compiled by other people.

Why go to the next record
Any of the following records may:

  • Have the information you are looking for.
    * Add information to what you have found.
    * Clear up differences found in previous searches.

If you find new information, you may want to again look at the records you searched before.

Biographies, diaries, etc., often have death information, such as death dates and places.

Biographies, Diaries, etc.: Biography

Biographies, diaries, etc., give information about persons who lived in a particular area. Regional, state, or national biographies generally include well-known persons, such as politicians, or other people who have attained status in their profession. They may mention the person's parents, spouse, children, and ancestors, with birth, marriage, and death dates and places. They may give information about the person's religion, occupation, military service, etc.

There may be biographies, diaries, and similar records from towns, counties, or states.

What you are looking for

  • A biography about your ancestor or his family.
    * A diary written by your ancestor or someone close to him or her who might have written about your ancestor.

Why go to the next record
Burial records are alternatives to death records. People generally were buried within a few days of death and usually near the place they died.

Church Baptisms, Marriages, Burials, Minutes, etc.: Church records

Church records usually include baptisms, marriages, burials, and minutes. Baptism records usually give the name of the child, parents' names, and date and place of baptism. Marriage records usually give the names of the bride and groom, witnesses, and the date and place of the marriage. Burial records usually give the name and age of the deceased person, with the date and place of burial or death. The name of the spouse may be listed, and for young children, the names of the parents may be given. Church minutes have a variety of information, including lists of members in various years.

Church records were kept in towns or counties by the minister or clerk of a congregation.

What you are looking for
A church record of your ancestor's burial.

Why go to the next record
Business pensions often contain death, biographical, and family information.

Business Pensions: Pensions

Starting in the late 1800s, large businesses gave pensions to employees when they retired. Pension records often give name, age, and length of service. They may give the date and place of birth and death, name of the spouse, and names and ages of the children.

There may be business pensions for town, county, and state businesses.

What you are looking for
A pension record for your ancestor from the company he or she worked for.

Why go to the next record
Directories are essential when searching in large cities. The address and occupation help you find your ancestor in other records, such as census, vital, and church records. Directories often mention if a woman is a widow, which indicates that her husband died.

City and Regional Directories: Directories

City and regional directories are similar to telephone books. They list persons who were employed, house owners, retired, widows, and temporarily unemployed, and sometimes list boarders. They give the person's name with his or her home address. They may give the person's occupation and work address. Sometimes they indicate widow or widower.

There are city and regional directories for cities, counties, regions, states, or the country.

What you are looking for
Your ancestor's name in a directory.

Why go to the next record
Court records often give biographical information about the people in a court case, such as a death date.

Civil and Criminal Court Records: Court records

Court records may include information on the settlement of estates, civil cases where people took court action against each other, and criminal cases. The information varies by case, but court records usually give the person's full name, age, and place of residence. They also tell about the court case and the court's decision. Court records may give occupations, names of relatives, friends or neighbors, family relationships, or other biographical information.

There are civil and criminal court records for towns, counties, states, and the country.

What you are looking for
Court records for the area where your ancestor lived during the time he or she lived there.

Death Record: Vital records

Birth and death records contain information given by family members to hospitals, physicians, midwives, or coroners, who filed the records with town or county clerks. The record usually gives the person's name, date and place of birth or death, parent's names, and may give the place of birth of the parents. Death records may give name of spouse, age, place of death and burial, and name of undertaker.

Birth and death records may be from towns, counties, or states.

What you are looking for
Your ancestor's death record kept by the government.

Why go to the next record
Employee and occupational records may give death and biographical information.

Employee and Occupational Records: Occupations

Larger companies sometimes preserved records about their employees. These usually contain mane, age or birth date, place of birth, and dates of hiring or termination. They may contain information about the person's spouse and children.

There are employee and occupational records for town, county, and state businesses.

What you are looking for
A record of your ancestor's employment or occupation.

Why go to the next record
Family Bibles often give death and burial dates.

Family Bible: Bible records

Family Bibles were passed down from generation to generation. They often have a section for recording family information. The recorded information usually gives birth, marriage, and death dates for one or more generations. The Bible record may list parents and names of children and their spouses, including maiden names.

Family Bibles are usually in the possession of family members, or the Bibles may have been given to town, county, regional, state, or national repositories.

What you are looking for
A Bible for your ancestor's family.

Why go to the next record
Funeral home records are often good sources of biographical and family information.

Funeral Home Records: Funeral homes

Funeral homes (mortuaries) assist family members with funeral services, burials, obituaries, and other needs. The records usually give the full name of the deceased (including maiden names of women), date and place of death, place of last residence, name of spouse, and name and location of the cemetery where the person is buried. They may also give names of parents, and surviving family members with their residences, and the date and place of the birth and marriage of the deceased. Obituaries, biographies, and the death certificate may also be included in mortuary records.

A funeral home is a business in a town, and each keeps its own records. When a funeral home changes ownership, the old records usually stay with the business.

What you are looking for
Records about your ancestor from a funeral home.

Why go to the next record
A magazine may have an article about your family or copies of the records you need, such as church and cemetery records.

Genealogical and Historical Magazines: Periodicals

Genealogical and historical magazines often publish such information as: family histories, obituaries, newspaper notices, church, cemetery, land, probate, tax, military, and naturalization records. Historical magazines may contain biographies and histories of towns, ethnic groups, organizations, industries, historical events, political campaigns, military activities, etc.

There are genealogical and historical magazines for cities, counties, regions, states, and the country.

What you are looking for

  • An article about your ancestor.
    * An article about your ancestor's relatives.
    * An article about the town or county where your ancestor lived.
    * An article with records for the town or county where your ancestor lived.

Why go to the next record
A collection often gathers information from many sources. Some of these sources may no longer be available or would be difficult to find.

Genealogical Collections: Genealogy

Genealogical collections usually give information about families and may include several generations. They usually give the names, and birth, marriage, and death dates and places for the husband and wife, the children, and possibly siblings and parents.

There are genealogical collections for towns, counties, states, and the country.

What you are looking for

  • A collection about your ancestor's family.
    * A collection with records from the place where your ancestor lived.

Why go to the next record
If your ancestor died when his or her children were young, guardianship records may indicate when and where your ancestor died.

Guardianship: Guardianship

A guardian was appointed by a court to oversee the affairs of another person, called a "ward." Guardianship proceedings occurred when minor children were orphaned by the death of both parents or when the father (or "bread winner") died. In some cases guardians or administrators were appointed when adults were declared incompetent to handle their own affairs.

Guardianship records usually give the name and age of the ward, the name of the deceased parent(s), name and residence of the guardian (which might be the mother), and the dates of court decisions. The records may also give the death date of the parent(s).

Guardianship records were kept by towns, counties, or states.

What you are looking for
Guardianship records for the area where your ancestor lived around the time he or she died.

Why go to the next record
Regimental histories often give death dates and places for officers and occasionally for soldiers, especially if killed in conflict.

Histories of Regiments and Wars: Military history

Histories of regiments have been written by individuals or groups, covering the Revolutionary War to the present, but most cover from the Civil War to the present. Regimental histories include biographical data on officers and occasionally on soldiers. They may include birth, marriage, and death information; the names of parents, spouse, children, or other family members.

They may include a roster listing the soldier's age, former occupation, enlistment date, discharge or mustering-out date, and date of death, especially if killed in conflict. They often give the town or county where the soldier was living when he enlisted.

There are histories of regiments and wars for most states.

What you are looking for
A history of your ancestor's regiment.

Why go to the next record
Town and county histories often give short biographies of first settlers and people in the area when the histories were written. State histories often give biographies of prominent men.

History: History

Histories tell of the events in a community or larger area. Effective family research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records dealing with them. Learning about governments, laws, wars, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records in which your family was listed, such as land and military documents.

Histories often contain biographical sketches about individuals and their families. They may include birth, marriage, and death information.

There are histories for towns, counties, regions, and states.

What you are looking for
A history of the town, county, or state where your ancestor lived.

Why go to the next record
This is not a complete list of all records you could search. If you did not find what you need, check the FamilySearch Catalog - Place Search or archives and libraries for the area where your ancestor lived for other records which may have information about your ancestors.


 

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  • This page was last modified on 18 July 2014, at 23:26.
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