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Introduction << Research Records <<

Below are descriptions for the episodes of Ancestors. Each episode deals with different types of genealogical records. They will tell you about a type of record and how to use that record to get information about your ancestors.

| Records at Risk | Family Records | Compiled Records |
| Genealogy and Technology | Vital Records | Religious Records |
| Cemetery Records | Census Records | Military Records |
| Newspapers | Probate Records | Immigration Records |
| Writing a Family History |

Records at Risk

The lives of our ancestors were a lot like our own, and the records they created represent the same life events we all experience. Tragically, thousands of irreplaceable records are destroyed every day. But around the world, heroic efforts are being made to preserve them, including the struggle to reconstruct genealogies destroyed in the Bolshevik Revolution, the massive microfilming efforts of the National Archives, and the work of Steven Spielberg¡¯s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Family Records

Some people believe that genealogical research is conducted almost exclusively in archives, libraries and courthouses, but the reality is that one of the richest resources is often our own homes ¨C or those of our relatives. Before venturing out on research trips, it is well worthwhile to look through scrapbooks and photo albums, closets and drawers, attics and basements to find any family records that contain genealogical information about your family.

Compiled Records

Compiled records -- comprised of information gathered, assembled and, with a bit of luck, indexed from other sources -- are usually an enormous time saver in genealogical research. They allow us to benefit and build from the work already done by others and save us from countless hours of pouring through original records.

Genealogy and Technology

How many "Smolenyaks" do you know? Computer resources help Megan Smolenyak find cousins she didn't know she had, both in the United States and in the Slovak village of Osturna. Experts elaborate on how to use computers and the Internet in seeking out family connections.

Vital Records

Many birth, death, and marriage certificates still exist. In the United States, they¡¯re called vital records, while outside the U.S. they¡¯re generally referred to as civil registration records. These records about the events that shape our lives are considered primary sources of genealogical information because they were recorded at the time the event took place. They are also excellent sources for confirming names and dates you¡¯ve found in secondary records.

Religious Records

Very often, religious records are the only source for information in early American communities, and in Europe, church records sometimes began decades or even centuries before any government registration. Even in more recent years, when it is possible to obtain birth, marriage and death certificates, it is frequently worth the effort to secure the corresponding church record, as the details revealed may complement those in the vital record.

Cemetery Records

Cemetery records are a favorite resource of genealogists, and for good reason. They often contain clues to long sought dates, family relationships, military service and much more. And even if the inscription on a tombstone fails to reveal more than the most basic of information, there¡¯s something about visiting your ancestors¡¯ final resting place that somehow brings you that much closer to them.

Census Records

Census records are invaluable. Each one contains precious names, ages, birthplaces, and relationships of our ancestors. Depending on the questions asked by the census taker, you might discover when your ancestors arrived in the U.S., how they made a living, or any of dozens of other clues to your family's past. These records -- brief "snapshots" of our loved ones -- allow a personal look into their lives that few records provide.

Military Records

Millions of American citizens have served in the armed forces, so chances are good that one or more of your relatives served at some time or another in the military. If they did, the military offices kept records about them and their service. Even if your family has no tradition of military service, it's still worth checking to see if ancestors who lived during the war periods did in fact serve. For many reasons, there are relatively few American families whose genealogies would not benefit from a search of military records.


One of the best and most underused resources in genealogical research is newspapers. Researchers dismiss them for a variety of reasons, but the genealogical details and historical context that can be found in newspapers make it worth the effort to look through them.

Probate Records

The passing of a loved one is a trying time in any family, but in later generations, the death of that ancestor can provide a wealth of valuable information to the family historian. Experts discuss the various records that are generated by the probate process and some of the interesting details found in wills.

Immigration Records

America is a nation of immigrants, so the entry into this country is a dramatic turning point in most of our family histories. To find actual evidence of our own ancestors' entry into America, immigration records are the key, as these are the documents that most directly link us to the homelands of our ancestors.

Writing a Family History

At some point, many genealogists decide that it's time to shift effort from collecting new information about the family to sharing it with others. Writing a family history is one of the most effective and satisfying ways of doing this.

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