Major Databases for Beginning United States Research

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Value of databases, strategies for using them, and a list of significant U.S. genealogical databases on the Internet with brief descriptions of each.

Definition. A database is a collection of information organized for rapid search and retrieval. Databases can be online, off line, or a combination of both. Some databases have user fees; some are free. Sometimes different databases overlap or contain information from the same sources. Search engines, such as Google, and lists, such as Cyndi’s List are not considered databases for this discussion. Various types of American genealogical databases in various media include, for example:

Family Group Records Collection—Archive Section (microfilm)

American Genealogical Biographical Index (books and online)

Pedigree Resource File (compact disc and DVD) (online)

Periodical Source Index (PERSI) (book, microfiche, and online)

Freedman’s Bank Records (compact disc, and online)

Vital Records Index—North America (compact disc)

Value of Databases.Genealogists use databases to quickly find compiled genealogies and original and derivative records. The primary advantage of using databases early in the research process is their ease of use. As a result of the rapid growth of the Internet and genealogical databases, it is likely that many of our American ancestors in the 1800s and earlier will be found in at least one database.

Usually genealogists build a wider search for further non-database original sources on the foundation of information found in databases of derivative sources, and from databases showing images of original sources.

User Beware. Genealogical databases must be used with caution, especially those consisting of derivative sources. Such databases are often poorly documented and contain many errors. Nevertheless, such databases are one of the first places to search for ancestors, provided the user understands the risk that derivative sources contain numerous inaccuracies. Always verify information downloaded from a database by locating the original source from which the data came.

Jurisdictions.Many of the larger databases, such as FamilySearch and Ancestry, combine material from many different sources, jurisdictions, and time periods. Worldwide, national, state or provincial, county, town, and individual family databases exist.

How to Use Databases

Search databases early.Search worldwide, multiple-source databases such as FamilySearch and when you begin research on a family. Also search databases for the states and counties where the family lived.

At first enter with only a little search information. When searching computerized databases, enter only a little search information to start. If this results in too many matches, add another piece of information and repeat the search. Slowly add more information one piece at a time until the number of matches is reasonable.

When the first search doesn’t locate data . . .If the original search results in no matches, remove most of the details in the search request. Alternatively, try variant name spellings in the search request. Wild card name searches may also be supported in some computerized databases.

Databases Online

Here is a list of some free databases on the Internet (or partly free at Family History Centers, or Family History Library). They are good sites to begin research on a family that lived in the United States. Largest free online collection of genealogical databases including Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index, 1880 U.S. federal census index, Pedigree Resource File, U.S. Social Security Death Index, and the Vital Records Index—North America.

FamilySearch Record Search Pilot Free index to 55+ U.S. - Canada sources, including selected federal and state censuses, birth, marriage, and death records, funeral home records, Freedman's Bank and Freedman's Bureau records, military pensions, probate records, passenger lists, WWI draft registrations, and land records, plus many other international records. Free at larger Family History Centers, it contains a limited subset of the information contained in paid subscription to

Castle Garden Free index to New York City passenger arrivals from 1820 to 1892, containing roughly 12 million immigrants.

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors 1861-1865 index of Union and Confederate veterans, giving the regiment, company, rank, and film number.

Ellis 1892-1924 New York City passenger arrival index showing ethnicity, arrival date, residence, age, ship, port of departure, passenger manifest image, and ship’s image. The best index for this site is at Ellis Island in One Step. Free at Family History Library. Digital original sources such as naturalizations, Revolutionary War papers, Civil War papers, Mormon Battalion pensions, newspapers, Southern Claims Commission, and Texas births and deaths. Indexes user-contributed family trees.

HeritageQuest $: This website contains indexes (1790-1820, 1860-1880, and 1900-1930) and images (1790-1930) to U.S. federal censuses; over 22,000 family and local histories; PERSI, an index to 2 million genealogical periodical articles; Revolutionary War pension and bounty-land warrants; Freedman’s Bank records; and U.S. Congressional records. It is free at the Family History Library, larger Family History Centers, and many public libraries. Check with your local library for free access to HeritageQuest. Free at Family History Library. Births, marriages, deaths, tax lists, church records, wills, family histories, diaries, The Great Migration Begins, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society Register. Free at Family History Library. 80 million name family tree created from shared submissions by individuals. Also includes Social Security Death Index 1962-present.

RootsWeb Surname List 1.2 million surname links to submitter contact data via this file.

RootsWeb WorldConnect  820 million names on family trees including births, marriages, deaths, parents, children, sources, pedigrees, family groups, and submitter contact data.

USGenWeb Archives  Free transcriptions of census records, marriage bonds, death records, wills, biographies and other documents, transcribed by volunteers, organized by state and county. Searchable.

Other Databases  Free. Over 55 million grave records, catagorized by state, county, town.  Searchable. Free.  Transcribed newpaper and other historical accounts of train wrecks, tornadoes, fires, floods, accidents and other disasters.  Searchable.  Free.  User-submitted cemetery listings.

Related Wiki Article

See also Websites for Family History Beginners.